<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Crime Prevention and Personal Safeety in an RV
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.



Topic: Crimes Against Travelers

Presenter: Bill Cain, National Crime Prevention Task Force

Note: The presenter is a member of the National Crime Prevention Task Force, a six-person team whose mission includes providing seminars to groups. These “class notes” summarize a presentation made at the Country Coach rally held in Las Vegas, NV, in March, 2003

The primary reason for increased crimes is illegal drugs. Methamphetamine drugs are easily made by anyone from common ingredients, and are likely to be with us for a long time. They used to be manufactured in rental residences, but law enforcement personnel are increasingly able to detect signs of meth production. To a significant extent they've been chased out of rental apartments and other fixed locations, so RVs (and RV parks) offer an attractive option. They can cook it as they drive down the road in their RVs. Expect to see more of this in RVs, and in RV parks. New scary drugs are hitting the streets recently, some from Mexico and Dominican Republic. Some are pills that can be slipped into a drink. Need to be suspicious of drinks in public places.

Economy is another factor in crime. Some will do whatever is needed to take care of their families.

Gangs are on the rise. Typically there is a crime committed as part of the initiation procedure into gang membership. This can be a rape, murder, or car jacking. This initiation process is the way gangs are able to separate undercover operatives, and keep them from infiltrating the gangs – since obviously infiltrators will not commit a serious crime.

Presenter predicts that the next ten years will see more violent crime than we’ve ever seen in the past. And more than 50% of these crimes will be attributed to kids under the age of 17.

Some General Precautions:

Wherever you go, you need to pay attention to your surroundings. Build an imaginary perimeter of 5-6 feet around you. If anyone comes into that space, consciously wonder what they want. Most crimes now occur during daylight hours, since an assailant can get closer to you without arousing your suspicions. Criminals understand this. Typically they will pick a target in a public place, then stalk them until they are in a stairwell or other vulnerable location, and in 60 seconds the person is mugged. You need to be suspicious of any person who is watching or staring at you. Don't return the stare, but do look them in the eyes to let them know you're aware of them.

Keep jewelry to a minimum. Criminals look for persons with excessive gold and glitter. Men are often duped by the line, “Hey man, what time is it?” If you show an expensive watch to answer, your ripe for a hit.

If you're ever in this situation, keep your mouth shut, give them what they want, and get out of the area immediately. They're as scared as you are, and are likely to do just about anything if they panic.

Increasingly vulnerable these days are women with children. Point a gun at the kid, and mom submits. There is a special vulnerability when putting kids in a car seat. If a woman is ever accosted as she is unlocking her car, the best action is to throw the car keys as far away as possible. Even if there is a child recently strapped into a car seat, this is the best solution. The criminal doesn’t want the child. Also best to make a lot of noise, jump on top of a car and shout. The main teaching point here is never, under any circumstance, leave the first location willingly and go to a second location. You’ll likely never come back. The most common areas for attacks are in grocery stores and mall areas. You’re better off there, even if shot, since at least you’ll be noticed and an ambulance can be dispatched. Not so if you go to that “second location”.

Scams. Never give out information about yourself over the phone. You may get a call saying the NRA is taking a survey, and want to know if you have a gun in the house. Don't give out information. Other scams involve telling you you’ve won a free dinner at a local restaurant. You’re asked which night you’d like to make your reservation, and you set it up for Tuesday night at 7 PM. You show up at the restaurant at 7 PM, and they’ve never heard of this prize – meantime your empty house is being ransacked.

Some criminals will look for garage door openers in a car. They steal the opener and get your home address from the registration that is also in your. They go right there and get in. Don't leave openers in sight!

New devices can open garage doors that have not been changed from the default security codes that are in some older wireless garage door openers. Whenever you get a garage door opener, always change the security code to a new number known only to you.

If you have a keypad entry, watch for powder on the keypad. After you’ve tapped in the code a few times, the keypad will disclose which numbers you’ve used to get inside. Then it’s only a matter of trying all possible combinations of those numbers to disable the security system.

Some scams have involved manicurists. They engage in chit chat about your personal life, and comings and goings – and then pass that information along to those who will break in while you are away (very likely at your next appointment there!)

Purse snatching scam: Teenage girls are known to snatch a purse (often in a women’s restroom where there are no surveillance cameras) and call the next day to say they are very remorseful – and if the victim agrees not to call the police they will meet them at a specified location at a time certain to return the purse. But when you go there at the appointed hour, you find there is no one there – because they’re at your house (they have your address from your purse) carting off all your valuables. For protection against purse snatchers a fanny pack is now considered safer than a purse strapped across the body.

Pickpockets: They frequent airports, malls casinos, etc. They'll watch when you purchase something and see which pocket your money comes out of. Beware of signs that read "watch out for pickpockets". Studies have shown that when a man passes such a sign, there is an inclination to immediately check to make sure he still has his wallet – and the observant criminal will now know exactly where you’re carrying it!

Protection for homes (and RVs)

The most underused protective device is the dead bolt – in both homes and RVs. But even when they are used, the weak point is invariably the strike plate that the dead bolt is secured to. This is because the strike plates come with very short screws – typically less than one inch. This makes it easy to kick a door in, even when it’s supposedly locked. Replace the strike plate screws with at least 4" screws, and preferably 6" screws. This will secure the strike plate through the door casing and into the adjacent door framing, making it much stronger.

Buy a no soliciting sign, and put a "day sleeper" sign underneath that. It gives the appearance that someone is home even when you’re away all day.

Sliding glass doors are another point of vulnerability. A broom stick is often used, but it's easy for the trained burglar to bypass. The best solution involves a locking pin, installed at a downward sloping angle, that locks the two center frames together. The downward angle of the pin is crucial, as it will keep it from being shaken loose.

Invest in an inexpensive intercom system so that you don’t need to open your front door – even if it is chained – in order to allow someone to identify him or herself.

The shorter days of the winter months create a unique risk. Many people leave an outside light on all day long because they know it's going to be dark by the time they get home after work. But by so doing they’re telegraphing the fact they’ll be gone all day.

Car jacking increased in part because vehicle security systems made it more difficult to steal a car when no one was in it. Expect the same reason (security systems and precautions) to stimulate home invasions while you’re at home. 80% of home invasions occur at night.

Have a family meeting to discuss how to react to a home intrusion. Establish a code word known only to the family members. In the event an home invasion should begin, shouting the code word means get out of house, call 911, etc. Also establish a "safe room" somewhere in the house – a place to which you can retreat and keep an intruder locked out. Keep a cell phone charger in that well secured room, and don't come out regardless of what threats are made.

There are no statistics on hotel/motel crimes. But travelers are involved, and they typically carry cash and other valuables. Look for motels that have an entry only through the front door, and past a desk (that is staffed 24 hours per day). Avoid motels/hotels that have extra doors to a garage, etc. There is often a bigger risk in cheaper hotels/motels. Many hotels/motels now use magnetic cards; however these can be easily compromised by the sophisticated criminal. Also the typical door bolts and locking mechanisms in hotels/motels are easily overcome.

Car jacking -- can happen at any time of day. Keep your doors locked when you're driving! Keep cars in good shape, and keep plenty of gas in them. You don't want to break down or run out of fuel and become a sitting duck. Carry and use a "call police" sign by placing it in the back window. Don't use a "call police" sign across front window. You'll blind yourself from someone who stops in front of you -- and won't be seen by passing motorists.

RV Specific Items:

RVs are easy targets. 17MM RVs on the road. And they are presumed driven by older folks. Everything in your home is in the coach. Best to drive in twos. When parking at a mall, park so that entry door faces the public side. Reduces chance of break in, and you can re-enter your coach from the “visible” size.

RVs are easy to break into even when securely locked. Kids have learned to climb on top, kick in vent fan or shower and get in that way. Keep steps retracted except when you are going in and out. By having the steps extended, a criminal can more easily get access to a point (platform) from which a window can be broken, and the intruder can reach in and unlock the door. Don't let strangers in to see your RV, such as under the pretense of wanting to buy it from you.

Don't stop at rest areas to sleep at night. Rest areas are becoming notorious for drugs and scams. Many scams involve an assertion that someone has just won the "lottery". Also watch out when dumping – you’re in a very vulnerable position, usually on the “hidden” side of the RV. Also be wary of marginal RV parks, or RV parks located in questionable neighborhoods [Ed note: e.g. graffiti?]. Pay an extra ten bucks to stay at a “good” RV park.

A blinking red light can be purchased inexpensively, and it will provide at least the appearance as an armed security system. It’s better to have a real security system of course, but having the appearance of having one is still a deterrent to someone breaking into your RV.

Take keys out of tow vehicle when you're parked in malls, etc. Criminals are learning that tow cars are very easy targets for theft, as they can easily be unhitched and just driven away. Also check the connections after being away from the coach, as this is part of another scam perpetrated on RVers. The criminal will partially disconnect the tow bar, and follow the coach down the road. Soon the tow car will become partially disconnected, and the coach is forced off the road. That’s when the stalking criminals show up for the robbery.

Keep bay doors locked. Bikes and scooters are easy targets, and require a good, heavy duty locking system.

Don't carry a body alarm on your person – they are counter-productive. However an alarm mounted just inside the coach door can be activated in the event trouble appears imminent.

Rest areas are increasingly dangerous places, and they are target areas for criminals. You're parked between two large trucks with engines running, and this provides cover for criminal activity. If someone bangs on your door in the middle of night DON'T open the door. Tell them you’re on the cell phone calling 911 for them, and police will be there immediately. At night keep the drapes drawn so criminals can’t assess who and what is inside.

Road rage: RVs can cause this most easily by holding up a line of cars. Stay in the right lane except when passing. Also, don't blow horns unless there’s a true emergency, as air horns can quickly result in road rage.

Scam tactic -- the three-car attack: RVs are often attacked by a group of criminals using three cars. On a secluded four-lane road (two in each direction) the first car passes and then pulls in front of you. Car two pulls along side of car one, and car three pulls along side of your RV. Then the car in front of you suddenly hits the brake, causing you to crash into the back of him. You’re now stopped, essentially entrapped by the attackers. If you ever see this situation starting to develop, take evasive action as early as possible to prevent being set up in this fashion.

Be able to describe your RV! In the event your RV is stolen, it’s not enough to say “it’s tan with some striping on it”. The best solution is to put four large numbers on front and back of coach; and put two even bigger numbers on top of the RV, which will be visible from the air. This will make the RV very easy for police to spot in the event it’s stolen.

Wal Mart type overnight is safer than a rest stop because it's better lighted. Stay where other RVs are staying, and tell a local police officer that you’ll be spending the night there. They tend to keep an eye on you.

Does someone know where you are, in the event you are abducted or the object of foul play? Have a plan in place, such as checking in with a family member at a specific time each week. If you fail to call, and can’t be reached, the family member should contact the local authorities in the place you were last known to be. The family member should have the numbers you’ve posted at each end, and on top of your RV so they can pass that information along to the police.

Guns -- if you must: don’t use a handgun, but a shotgun. Hand guns are difficult to use with accuracy; a shotgun is not. Moreover the sound of a round being loaded into a shotgun is unmistakable, and itself a deterrent. A stun gun is not effective. It’s a better tool for a criminal than a victim. Mace/tear gas. Mace is 1% tear gas, and not effective against persons who are under influence of alcohol or drugs. Pepper gas (spray?) is not dependable. [Note: in other classes that touched on guns, the point was made that whether you choose to have one is an individual decision, and needs to be evaluated in the context of applicable state laws. If you have a gun, you’d better be highly proficient with using it, otherwise it is an invitation to disaster.]

[Ed Note: We have tried to summarize the presentation as carefully as possible, but found it necessary to amplify and/or draw certain inferences in a few places to make the presentation more cohesive.]

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