Avoiding scary situations at home and away

We all like to think, “It can’t happen here” — but we’d better think again.

I have heard about several recent incidents in local parking lots and on neighborhood streets that are somewhat scary. Vehicles that were accidentally left unlocked have been rifled through, and one of my female friends actually found someone sleeping in the back seat of her car!

She ran away and called police; they found the man around the corner. He also had run away when discovered, calling out apologies as he fled. Still, who knows what would have happened if she hadn’t noticed him and had started driving away with him still in the car?

I even had a strange experience myself recently in which someone may have been targeting my car. As I approached my vehicle in a somewhat isolated spot in a parking lot last week, I noticed a person parked nearby, poking at what I thought was a cellphone. When I pushed the button to unlock my car door, nothing happened.

The person I saw appeared to become frustrated and frantic. I made two more attempts to unlock my car with no success, but as that person drove away, my door lock worked normally. As I started to exit the lot, I noticed that the stranger had simply driven to the other side of the lot and parked again, as if they were waiting to follow me. I found another way out and went straight home, avoiding that person altogether.

Perhaps I should have gone to the police station instead. But I couldn’t say that person had actually done anything to me, so as far as I knew there was no crime to report. I just felt very uneasy about the situation.

The next day I learned that there are affordable devices on the market that can block the signal between your key fob and the electric locks on your vehicle. That information gave me chills. Fortunately, I haven’t seen that stranger’s vehicle again so far.

Despite the fact that we all tend to feel safe in our small, familiar communities, local law enforcement agencies are constantly arresting dangerous individuals. Some of those accused criminals are our neighbors, but not all of those people live here. In fact, many of the folks arrested for drug trafficking and other drug-related offenses in the local region come from big cities such as Cleveland or Columbus or even Chicago.

That means they don’t care about our communities and they certainly don’t care about us as individuals. If we happen to get in their way, we just might get hurt.

The same interstate highways that make our area accessible and appealing to business and industry bring more than just merchandise to the local region. They bring thousands of people from all parts of the country through our communities every week. Any one of those people could be a dangerous individual.

And recent published reports state that Ohio has one of the highest human trafficking rates in the nation. That means it is possible that vulnerable residents, particularly children and teens, could be nabbed and sold into a form of modern-day slavery.

I am not trying to incite panic with this column. I am simply pointing out that complacency can be dangerous. Our parents always told us to check our back seats before getting into our vehicles for good reason.

We all need to be vigilant and take good care of ourselves. We must be aware of our surroundings and remember to lock our doors at home and in our vehicles, no matter how small the town where we live, work or play.

Rather than living in fear, I urge you all to learn about behaviors that could indicate someone is a threat. Consider some self-defense strategies and be prepared to use them if needed.

Keep close tabs on your children when they are out with friends or on your sibling who must work the late shift. Check in on your elderly parents who are traveling in an unfamiliar area, and be sure they have a cellphone with them so you can communicate easily. Park in well-lighted areas and avoid walking to your car alone late at night.

Just remember – it can happen here. But whatever “it” is, it’s less likely to happen to you if you are alert to signs of trouble. If you are walking with purpose, your head held high and using a confident stride, you will look much less like an appealing target than if you have your head down, distracted by a cellphone that has you tuning out the rest of the world.

Don’t let fear stop you from doing the things you want to do, but don’t be naive about the dangers that are out there, either. A little common sense can go a long way toward ensuring that you and your family remain safe for years to come, whether you are here at home in the Ohio Valley or away at some distant destination.

That is my wish for all of you this summer – that you enjoy whatever you do while remaining safe, secure and happy.