You may have wondered at some point how you can protect yourself from crime. Crime can happen to anyone at anytime, no matter what your socioeconomic background or gender is. No one is exempt, and it's important that you know how to protect yourself in any situation, and learn techniques to prevent crime from happening to you.
I've lived in places all over the United States, as well as in Europe, and I've lived in all kinds of neighborhoods. Some places have less crime than others of course, but even in low crime neighborhoods, you should still be always aware of your surroundings. Even the best neighborhoods have crime if the criminal senses an opportunity.
Below, I will explain how to prevent crime from happening to you and what to do if a crime is taking place.
What to look out for and how to prevent it:
At your home:
When you are at your house or whatever type of dwelling you have, look at your house from the outside. If you had to break into your house because you were locked out, where would you go to get in? If you can think of a specific area (door, window, etc.), that area is vulnerable to a break-in. You have to think like a criminal to deter a criminal. Think about what your house looks like during the day and night. Do you have a lot of lights on outside? Are there dark areas? Do you have shades, blinds, and/or curtains on your windows? Is your house easy to see into?
At night, it is incredibly easy for someone outside of your home to see into your home and monitor your activities. They can get information about you such as how many family members you have or if you live alone, what time you go to bed, what your house layout is, and where your bedroom is. No matter where I've lived, I've seen lots of homes where people leave their blinds, curtains, and/or shades open, and you can see everything they are doing. When it starts getting dark, close your window dressings and make sure it's not easy to see inside of your home. Go outside of your home at night and try to see in; this is the best way to determine what a criminal might see. Just remember, once it's dark outside, you can't see out, but everyone else can see in.
Criminals prefer darkness because it hides them. If a criminal goes into your neighborhood looking for houses to break into, they will almost certainly choose a house that is dark so no witnesses see them. They might choose a house where they can see if anyone is inside before the crime if they plan on a robbery. (Deter them by closing your window dressings). They may choose a house that appears to be quiet and dark in an attempt to rob someone while they are sleeping. The best thing to do is get a bright porch light for all of your entryways. If you can, install motion detector lights around the sides of your house, or any area that is dark. Light is a deterrent, and is generally cheap way to add security to your house.
Some people still leave windows and doors unlocked; lock them and make sure they are secure. Even if you've never had a problem in your neighborhood and you have felt safe for years, lock your doors and windows. Some criminals will go around houses, apartments, etc. and try doors and windows to see if they are open. If you have a sliding glass door, always put a long piece of solid wood or metal in the door track so criminals can't pop the door lock. They are surprisingly easy to open, and a lot of criminals choose to get into houses and apartments this way.
Locks are important as well. If your doors have some glass in them, all a criminal has to do is break your glass and unlock your locks. There are locks you can install or get installed by a professional that require keys on both sides of the locks. These type of locks are called double cylinder deadbolts, and run anywhere between $10 to $100+ depending on what brand you choose. You can buy them at hardware stores like The Home Depot or Lowe's Home Improvement. The danger with these locks is you cannot get out unless you unlock the lock with a key, so always remember where your key is (don't leave it in the lock as it will defeat the purpose).
Another option for security for your doors is a door jammer. A door jammer fits under your doorknob to deter someone from kicking in or shouldering your door open. It's sort of like the idea of putting a chair under your doorknob, but a lot more sturdy. Door jammers vary in price, but I've seen them vary from $17 to $100+ on Amazon.com.
For your windows, you have some options, but they aren't as secure as the door options, unfortunately. You can put bars outside of your windows for extra security. These are unappealing to some people though, so I can understand any hesitation. If you don't think bars are a good option, you can get windows with better locks on them. They may cost quite a bit, however.
The option I like is installing a security camera system outside of the house. I bought a security camera system that had four cameras and a DVR (recorder) for $200 on Amazon.com. It was very good quality during the day, but at night it recorded a lot of dust (a lot of them do though, so it wasn't just because of the kind of camera). The quality at night was good, and I never felt like I couldn't see an image that was moving clearly (like an animal running across the yard). The camera only turns on when it senses movement, so there were usually just short clips of movement, which I could view at any time. The only thing you have to worry about is if you have a break in, the criminal could steal your DVR box and take your recordings and any evidence of a crime. However, if you put your cameras in areas where they might not notice them (like in the eaves of your house, over your door, etc.), you have a better chance of them not knowing they are on camera.
It might behoove you to paint your cameras the same color as your house (or close to the same color), so they don't stand out. You can get domes to cover security cameras, but those are generally more expensive. Make sure to put your cameras in areas where someone can't get to them easily. The more difficult it is for a criminal to get to your cameras, the more likely it is that they'll find an easier house to target.
Another option for total house security is a security alarm system. These can be expensive, but I've lived in a house where there was an alarm system, and those things are loud. One day I was home and no one realized it. They set the alarm, and when I went downstairs to leave the house, it went off. It was so loud that when the alarm company called, I could barely hear them. They are so loud that I am absolutely positive it is a strong deterrent for criminals.
What else can you do to deter criminals from your house? Make sure the outside of your home is free from things that may tempt a criminal to see what else is inside your home. Don't leave out your lawnmowers, bikes, or anything else of value. If a criminal sees something that they want that is easy to take outside, they may start thinking you have other valuables in the house and that you are an easy mark.
Make sure to take care of your yard as well. A criminal might pick a home where the grass is not mowed, where there are newspapers or a large amount of mail in the mailbox, all of the lights are out for days at a time, or generally looks like people haven't been there in a while. You can also play a radio during the time you are gone so it appears that someone is inside your home while you are gone.
If you are going on vacation, do not announce it on social media. There are criminals who will look for people to announce that they are not going to be home at a certain time or for a certain length of time, and target your home. If you are going on vacation, put your mail on hold or have a family member or friend collect it every couple of days. You can put your lights on a timer, so it appears that you are at home even when you are not. Light timers are generally inexpensive and you can buy them at home improvement stores.
The best way to protect your car while at home is to park it in a garage. Make sure your garage is locked and secure. You can buy a second lock to secure the garage from opening at night as well. Make sure the door you use to get inside of your house from the garage has a good deadbolt lock on it; it's the same as your other entry doors, so make sure criminals can't get in that way either.
If you don't have a garage and have to park in a driveway, carport, or parking lot (or are going out to a public place), make sure your doors are always locked. Double check it, and try the door handle to make sure. Never leave anything that may be perceived as a valuable in your car. Those round marks a GPS makes on your windshield make it obvious that you have a GPS in your car to criminals, so wipe those off and hide your GPS well (better yet, take it inside). Make your car empty of temptations so criminals will bypass your car.
If a criminal is looking to steal your car and not just your belongings, you can deter them by parking where there is good lighting. At home, you can use bright porch lights, motion detectors, and a camera system. At an apartment parking lot, you can use a steering wheel lock bar (like The Club), install a kill switch (it disables the electrical system or cuts off fuel so the thief can't steal the car), a car alarm (anything loud is a deterrent because it will get a criminal noticed), a tracking device (like OnStar), or a device that locks the brakes.
Another deterrent is being aware of odd behavior in your neighborhood or when you are out in a public place. Is someone lurking around, looking in cars? Are they trying door handles? Do they not belong in your neighborhood? I lived in a place where a neighbor told me that there was a strange car parked in his driveway for a couple hours in the middle of the night, and told me to be aware of the car. I had heard that a few cars had been stolen in that neighborhood for joyrides. The next night, I saw the car I suspected was the same car my neighbor talked about. The car was sitting outside of my house, idling. I had just gotten home. I got out of my car and stopped and stared at the car for about 20 seconds, when it all of the sudden took off and sped away. I didn't see the car after that night. Sometimes if the criminals are aware that you've noticed them, they choose another place to target. If you notice something odd, talk to your neighbors and call the police if needed. The police can only help if you make them aware of the situation. Your neighbors are important allies as well. People observe all kinds of things you may not be aware of, so it's important to have each other's backs and report strange people and behaviors.
When you are out and about:
When you are out in public, you should be aware of your surroundings. Criminals will target people who are not paying attention, have their arms and hands full, and seem vulnerable. I've been followed several times by strangers who have given me a weird vibe from the moment I saw them. I've been followed by foot and by car. If you find that someone gives you a weird feeling, trust your judgment. If you don't often get a feeling that someone is weird or something is off about them, then know that something about them is telling you to get away from them. If you are walking to your car, turn around and go back into a public place. If you feel like you may not make it there, get into your car and lock it immediately while keeping an eye on the person.
Before you are leaving a public place, make sure you have your keys out, finger on the alarm button while walking. Look around and sweep the area with your eyes. Do you see anyone around? Is anyone making you feel like something is off? Make sure if you have any bags, they are in your non-dominant hand so if someone chases you, you can drop the bags and run. Your keys should be in your dominant hand so you can easily hit the alarm button without fumbling them.
Call the police if you feel that you are in danger. If someone follows you from a public place in their car, do not go home. Go to a police station or a fire station. Go somewhere where the person won't follow you in and is not associated with you.
I was once followed from a store by a man. I felt like he was giving off a weird vibe and was following too close to me, so I sat in the parking lot and waited for him to leave. I waited 10 minutes and he didn't leave, so I left. As soon as I pulled out of the parking space, he left too and began to follow me. He followed me for almost an hour, though twists and turns in a few neighborhoods, and I finally decided to pull into a random driveway. He went further down the street past the house and stopped in the middle of the road. He stared back at my car for a few minutes, then he drove away. I pulled out, and drove around for half an hour, making sure he was gone. I never saw him again because I moved away a couple weeks later, but I wonder if he went back there to look for me again at some point. It was a scary situation and I learned for the first time that I needed to be aware of my surroundings at all times because there are people out there who look for vulnerable victims.
If you feel like someone is up to no good, don't give them any information about yourself like where you live, where your family or friends live, or anything associated with you. If you do, they could find you again. If you can, get their license plate and make and model of their car. Look at them closely if you can; try to determine their height, approximate weight, and description of what they look like. Write down what you observed and the date, time, and area. If you see them again, you will have information to give to the police if needed.
When you are parking in a public place, always park in a well-lit area. Whether you are at a shopping center, store, visiting a friend in an apartment, amusement park, etc., make sure it's well-lit and next to vehicles that are shorter than yours. When I lived in a state in the southwest, I talked with the local police about the high crime rate in the area. The police said that there was an incident in the Wal-Mart parking lot where a van was parked next to a woman who had been shopping. She came out of the store to leave, and when she was getting into her car, a person in the van pulled her into the van and raped her. Make sure you are not parked near any suspicious vehicles. If you do not feel safe, ask a security guard or store worker to help you out to your car. I've been to many places where you can ask someone to help you out to your car, so ask if you see or feel anything that seems weird or troubling. If you can't find anyone, call the police. Being wrong about a situation may seem embarrassing, but I'd rather be wrong than be a victim of a crime.
If someone comes up to you and asks for something and you don't know them, tell them no. I once was in a parking lot and a guy started walking quickly towards me. I tried to walk faster, only to see him walk faster. I walked slower, and he walked slower. It was alarming, and I got into my car and locked the doors. He looked very angry, and he walked over to my car window and asked me to roll my window down. I yelled through the window and asked him what he wanted, and he told me his car battery died and he needed jumper cables. He asked if I would get out and jump his car, and I refused. I felt weird about his behavior, so I said no and got out of there. If someone is acting weird and wants you to get out of a place of safety, say no.
Don't worry about seeming impolite or rude; your life is worth more than a little impoliteness. If you are mistaken, then so be it, but don't risk your life just so some stranger will think well of you.
Another thing to note is don't think you are "bothering" the police if you need to call them for help. It is their job to help citizens, and even if what you are experiencing turns out to be nothing, you are entitled to get help when you need it. I've called the police for help on certain occasions, and even if I felt like the officer wasn't the nicest person I'd ever met, they did show up, and they did help. I've even noticed in some neighborhoods where I've reported crime, they up their presence overnight; the point is, they can't know about something if you don't report it. They can't help you if you don't tell them. Maybe you won't see the effect your information has on your neighborhood, but I've lived in enough places and seen enough change that I can tell you it makes a difference.
Criminals don't like to be seen and they definitely don't like areas where they may be caught. Protect yourself, your home, your belongings, and be aware of what is going on around you. You are your best ally when protecting yourself from crime.