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Letter to the editor: People must be responsible for their own safety

Letter to the editor:

Off-campus houses on on 11th Avenue on Oct. 15. Credit: Isabella Giannetto / Lantern photographer

Off-campus houses on on 11th Avenue on Oct. 15.
Credit: Isabella Giannetto / Lantern photographer

The Lantern has been covering some pertinent stories on crime around OSU. However, it was editor Liz Young writing about the burglary of her apartment in the Sept. 28 Lantern that really got my attention, especially in how she wrapped it up:

“I have an endless number of questions and I feel like none of them will be answered anytime soon. So for now, as the police told me, we just have to be extra careful.

“Whatever that means.”

Good point! What does it mean to be “extra careful”? I’ve read many a crime prevention handout echoing the sentiment: “Be alert.” A recent one I saw added something else: “Be alert and make smart choices.” It continued with the ever popular “walk with a friend or group of friends,” plus a few other rules.

All good general advice — given without any details whatsoever.

Being alert to one’s surroundings (environmental awareness) is mostly self-evident, but I’ll add two more facets: “self-awareness” and “threat awareness.” What does it matter being alert if you don’t know what to look for? Danger is seldom clearly labeled.

Now back to that flier, the front side of which proudly crowed: The full power of public safety, here to keep you safe.

Picture yourself at 4 a.m. as you leave the all-night library to walk alone to your apartment a few blocks off campus. What does “the full power of public safety” have to do with you? You tried calling your friendly escort service, but they stopped running earlier in the morning. There’s not a cop in sight. Do you think the “power of public safety” is going to appear from out of nowhere if you’re attacked? Chances are the answer is no.

But that second line … so close. All it needed was one little key word. Let me add it for you: Here to help keep you safe.

You are the one who is responsible for your own safety. Everyone else, from cops to EMTs and other safety folks, are only adjuncts to your safety. Plus, they are usually called after an emergency has occurred. My beef with the pamphlet I’ve been talking about is that it doesn’t focus on you and your role in crime prevention. It appears to be informed primarily by an administrative mindset that doesn’t want to unduly alarm anyone, doesn’t want to expend too many resources and doesn’t want to get into any grimy details on an unpleasant subject.

First of all, I’m not an authority, nor am I any kind of expert. I’m just like most of my readers. You don’t need a pack of experts to make your life safer, especially when many of those experts won’t agree with one another. My perspective will inform you and make suggestions, but it will be you who accepts or rejects those suggestions.

Why? Putting it bluntly, it’s your a–. Not mine, or Expert A’s or Authority B’s, but yours. It’s your a– that might find itself in trouble and it’s up to you to learn about trouble, think about it, plan for it and then deal with it, all in real time. This process takes more than memorizing pamphlet rules.

Time to switch mindsets!

Picture a street criminal who wants your wallet. This guy isn’t sitting in a board room designing pretty pictures and slick slogans. He’s figuring out how he can get close to you without provoking your fight or flight response. Maybe he’s planning a quick question to occupy your mind and reduce your ability to react as he approaches from the front, or maybe he’s plotting how he can come up from behind as you’re jamming to the oldies on your iPod. Maybe there’s more than one of him.

Either way, the only thing he might ask himself is this: “Can I take this sucker?”

This is the criminal mindset. You’re an object, a resource. It’s the criminal’s job to get his share of your stuff. Carefully, with smooth talking, or quick and brutal with a brick; he’ll do what he must to get paid. I’ve found it vitally important to get into this mindset if you wish to understand it and, eventually, avoid, mitigate or deal with it. 

Crimes vary, and what I’ve just described is only one of many ways to become a victim.  Criminals’ plans run the gamut from brilliant to brilliantly stupid, but most of them have at least one advantage over their targets: they have a plan, and most of their victims don’t.

Thus, I want to get you to think about your safety. Not just safety from crime, but from other threats as well. Steps you take to protect yourself must be compatible with normal, everyday life. Not all strangers approaching you are threats. Not all problems are solved with pepper spray or running away. It’s easy to buy that cool new doodad which promises to keep you safe, but it’s not so easy to think about dangerous, scary things like crime. Or embarrassing stuff like how to tell your date what your limits are, or to tell your friends that you’re not going to lie for them as they’re headed for trouble. Thinking about this stuff in advance will enable you to come up with some plans of your own. Now we’re entering the realm of mental preparation. That can be taught as well.

Now I want you to do something about crime, something both for you and other good people. It will cost you. Not money. Something a lot more difficult: Effort!

Be prepared to do more than read a pamphlet.

Karl Spaulding
Campus crime prevention advocate who works for OSU’s Department of Public Safety

Spaulding noted his views do not represent his employer’s views.


  1. Great letter, however until i can carry concealed in campus, how am I suppose to apply this advice? Concealed carry bans effect off campus areas as well. End the defenselessness.

  2. Good question. State law and OSU’s attitude both do interfere with being legally armed not just on, but often, around campus, especially if you walk or bike. However, just because you are unarmed does not mean you are helpless. In Col. Jeff Cooper’s classic work on defensive mental preparedness, “Principles of Personal Defense,” the first two principles are Alertness and Decisiveness.

    You don’t need a gun to be alert to potential trouble.

    You don’t need a gun to take decisive action.

    However, if you are carrying a gun, you still need to observe Cooper’s “Principles,” or there is a good chance your gun will be useless. I’d recommend you begin with reading his PPD and studying his Color Code. Also, John Boyd’s OODA loop has come into vogue in the past ten or twenty years to add to our conceptualization of assault response.

    Since most of the self-defense web sources on Cooper and Boyd will be “gun-centric,” I recommend non gun folks think in terms of the soccer mom who just left yoga class. She thinks in terms of “mindfulness.” Being mindful of your surroundings, your activities, your life, does not carry the sometimes negative connotations of “Condition Yellow” etc. You think mainly of “participating in life” instead of blindly just “getting through the day” using your electronic doodads to entertain you as you walk outside or wait in line.

    Since most of the work on “situational awareness” has been done in the military/police/CCW context, it can be a turn off for those who can’t make the connection between everyday safety issues and lessons learned the hard way in combat.

    Likewise, please don’t ignore what you can do to protect yourself when you don’t have a weapon. You can do a lot, but it does take study and action, such as taking a self-defense course or learning about and training with improvised weapons, etc.

    Finally, realize most hazards around OSU do not involve lethal violence. Most crimes are property crimes. Learning to be alert and preventing even a mundane theft of your laptop or phone will pay off big time.

    If nothing else, admire the attitude of Major General Percy Hobart, pioneer of early armored warfare, who was forced to retire from the British Army (by old fashioned, cliquish superior generals who were living in the past) and began WWII as a corporal in the Home Guard:

    “I can’t do what is ideal, so I must do what I can.”



  3. Just a test.


  4. Gobbledeegook.

  5. Elizabeth came from a mermaid and drives a little car. She combs her hair once a day, whether it needs it or not.

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