Monday, December 08, 2008

Threat Indicators and Personal Safety

This is a guest post by Thomas Gerace, someone for whom I have a lot of respect. Thomas is author of The Things Worth Believing In blog, a newer site with an early and continuing emphasis on the concept of "warriorship." By his own definition, he is a "husband, father, police lieutenant, FBINA graduate, fitness buff, martial artist, hunter, reader, gun nut, conservative, internet surfer." Check out his blog after this taste.

Have you ever been in a situation where a person gave you the impression that they could be a threat? Did they gave off some sort of "vibe" that they were ready to start some trouble; something you just couldn't place your finger on? Chances are that there were obvious physical clues that person was giving you that you were only aware of sub-consciously.

A common topic in law enforcement training circles is the detection of something called "pre-assaultive threat indicators". In any police contact, officers are trained to look for physical cues that serve as "early warning signals" that a person may flee or become combative. These same cues can be useful in the civilian world as well. Being able to identify body language that indicates an imminent attack can give you the opportunity to, at best, "beat feet". Or at worst, allow you to preempt the attack with a defensive measure.

Avoiding Eye Contact: When a person acts like you are not there and wont look at you it can mean a few different things, or a cluster of them. The person is avoiding engaging because he is mentally processing the situation in an agitated state and cannot multitask. He is trying to decide what to do and when, he could be looking for an escape route or psyching himself up to act. He could also be attempting to distract you for a sucker punch.

The Chest Puff: "Making the body bigger says 'I am powerful' and is a typical male action. This warns other men not to attack and may indicate that the person is thinking of attacking. It can thus be a response to a threat. If one man expands, then others have the choice of retreating or expanding also ('If you attack, I'll fight back!'). Expansion can thus indicate anger."

Rocking Motion: When people are going into "fight or flight" mode their bodies are pumping oxygen and adrenaline into their systems and if they are trying to contain that urge to fight or flee (for the moment) they will do some odd things. Pacing, bouncing up and down, rocking back and forth, helps "burn off" some of that extra O2. it is also indicative of a subconscious "warming up" for action.

Averting the Face: People on the verge of initiating an action often attempt to hide their anxiety by averting or hiding their faces. This will also be seen in facial wipes, slicking back the hair, looking up into the air, etc.

Boxers Stance: This is a solid indicator that the "fight" half or "fight or flight" is being chosen. Look for a flexing of the knees and a "nose over toes" lean that indicates a preparation to launch.

Clenching of Fists: Another indicator that "fight" is the choice. Its also another "warming up" gesture.

Thousand Yard Stare: The subject is looking "through you" instead of at you. He has that "faraway look" on his face. He is putting himself in his "angry place". He is dehumanizing you and hovering over the launch button. Gain distance.

Target Glance: The opposite of the Thousand Yard Stare. the subject is zeroing in on a target. If he's staring at your chin be ready for the sucker punch. If its your weapon, a gun grab attempt.

Facial Wipe: see Averting the Face

Now, don't go nuts just because some guy wipes his face. The secret to decoding these cues is to take the entire situation into account and look for clusters of behavior. If you are in a profession where you have to deal with people in these situations; when you see these indicators it is time to act! Put some distance between yourselves and start issuing commands for compliance. I would be getting my OC or taser limbered up and/or tightening the laces on my running shoes. If you are a civilian and you see these cues...leave...if possible. If leaving is not an option, get ready.

The attached video is a clip from a project put together by a close friend who is a martial arts instructor, a local film artist and myself. It's a project in progress. Don't be too critical of the realism of the defensive response at the end. The threat indicators were the focus of the piece and we were not willing to roll around on the hot summer pavement for a more realistic "fight".

For more articles like these, please visit my blog: The Things Worth Believing In.


Anonymous said...

Good post! James

Dan from Madison said...

Very good post, thanks for writing it.

Anonymous said...

Of course most of those items listed could also be autism or a related complex. All but Boxers stance sound alot like someone with autism that is a bit over loaded but harmless. Well they might try to get in a slap fight with you if you mess with them but that is about it.

Anonymous said...

Some excellent points made. By noticing these actions and being aware of them you should be in a great position to understand weather a situation will develop or not

kbarrett said...

You missed one ... attempts to get compliance.

Perp will ask you for things ... the time, a cigarette, directions, etc. It's an attempt to get you into a subservient mental condition before striking.

If you can't just leave, go into stage red, chest puff, wipe your face, go into a thousand yard stare yourself, and quietly say "No".

You can use all these threat indicators yourself to get his subconscious to warn him to back down ... two can play this game.

Anonymous said...

I didnt include "compliance attempts" because this article was focused on unconscious signals that people give off, not predatory ruses. The various ruses like forced teaming, inability to hear no and others can be foud in various places. "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin DeBecker is a great one. Ive touched on a few of his points:

As to I stated, you have to look at things like these in a gestalt approach. Where you are, who you are dealing with and how he is acting all come into play.

Anonymous said...

The physical threat cues are different from verbal 'judo' because they reveal the true intent while the verbal manipulations/persuasions/tricks are an attempt to distract from the truth. Sort of back to the old "Actions speak louder than words" idea.

I would NOT suggest 'counter indicator'-ing as an attempt to get the other person to back down. It could backfire if witnesses can report later that both of you were 'acting like you wanted to fight.' Civilian or LEO/Operator the goal is tactical control in order to exact YOUR objective. Civilian objective: get out of there. Period. Getting into a dominance posturing battle isn't going to accomplish that, IMO.

Cybrludite said...

Just a note: If you can quit your job without going to Leavenworth, you're a civilian.

Anonymous said...

Really? Crack open the dictionary:

Pronunciation: \sə-ˈvil-yən also -ˈvi-yən\
Function: noun
Date: 14th century
1: a specialist in Roman or modern civil law
2 a: one not on active duty in the armed services or not on a police or firefighting force b: outsider 1
— civilian adjective

Take a look at number 2. Cops are in a different position from the rest of society, just a with it.

Holly B said...

Thanks very much for this post. So much emphasis is placed on fighting technique in the dojo, but very little on situational awareness, the reality of violent confrontations, etc.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing! I will pass this on to my troops. Best wishes. Steven

wolverine said...

A lot of those sound like Asperger syndrome. We tend to do things like that when under stress especially bouncing on balls of feet or some other compulsive action.