by W. Hock Hochheim
A lot of training time is spent worrying about two people in a verbal stand-off, like before a bar fight for one example. Real life is more complicated and diverse than bar fights. But not enough time is spent on worrying about how you got there before the altercation. Lots of people walk up and into problems, or the problem walks up to them.
There is even a zombie walk we all recognize. But walking tells a lot about us and even our ever-changing moods and plans, and we don't always recognize it even when we do it. Oblivious.
"There's a kind o' walk you walk when the world's undone you,
There's a kind o' walk you walk when you're walkin' proud,
There's a kind o' walk you walk when the neighbors shun you,
There's a kind o' walk you walk sets you 'bove the crowd."
- Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn
I always refer to my Stop 6 structure when defining common confrontations, fights, and arrests. The common stopping points, not ranges. Stop 1 is the first stop, and it involves a study in the classic interview standoff or showdown range. In that Stop, we cover the usual and numerous issues like positioning, verbal skills, "stances," overall assessment of the trouble maker, etc. But to cover the Stop 6 competently, we also have to stretch Stop 1 out a ways geographically, because sometimes trouble walks up to you and sometimes you walk up to trouble. This essay is all about the walk. It is about – the approach. How he, she, or they got there. How you got there. What can you see and read along the way?
In my days as a police patrolman, I had an opportunity to watch a lot of people. I recall one afternoon parked in a neighborhood just looking around. A black male, approximately mid-twenties, was walking down the street in a very natural or normal gait just like anyone walking anywhere, perhaps preoccupied by the thoughts in his mind. But up ahead was an intersection, and just a bit down that cross street was a club. A bar. And pretty much morning, noon, or night, other males congregated in front of that bar. I noticed that when my pedestrian got near that intersection; effectively within the sight of the bar, he changed his gait. He suddenly strutted and added a short slide to a foot. He effectively became "cool" in the eyes of the guys in the front of the bar. They did not wave. As soon as he dropped out of their sight across the street, the "cool" shuffle was dropped, and our man returned to his normal gait. He'd been “profiling,” “show-timing,” or any other description you choose. People do this type of thing all the time for all kinds of reasons, whether they know it or not. I repeat, whether they really know it or not. The walk can represent the brain. The thoughts.
One of my favorite walking stories comes from my old friend Mike Gillette, former Army paratrooper and police chief. Gillette was hired to do security assessments on some of the biggest amusement parks on the planet. This required him to spend a lot of time walking around these big parks and ... assessing everything from possible counter-terrorist attacks as well as crime. Gillette said that he was constantly stopped by park attendees and asked questions like, "Where are the bathrooms?" "Where is Bazooka Ride?" Etc. Finally, Gillette asked a father why the dad was asking him for directions. The dad said, "Well, you must work here. You are the only guy walking around here not having any fun." In the course of Gillette's inspections, he was indeed walking around like a serious employee on a mission; and his face, pace, walk, and busy attitude was easily and subliminally perceptible to others.
But our subject here is a short study about violence and the approach, the walk-up, or even the run-up and subsequent trouble. As I am fond of saying, life is either an interview or an ambush. An ambush is, well, an ambush. Often undetectable. When you can detect people approaching you with crime on their minds, they may well change or have a different gait than normal. The approach is expressive. See the list below. If criminals wish to approach you in a surreptitious manner, if they can control their gaits, because sometimes they can't, their gaits might well be "smaller" perhaps, maybe head down, or face turned away; but this, too, is often perceptible because it is different than normal.
If several people plan to rob or attack you, they might approach you with a different pattern of normal friends on a walk, and still they might not even know they are doing it. I recall a lone victim on a case I worked that is a great example. One night, my victim was out too late in a closed, outdoor shopping mall area. In the distance, he saw three men who were walking together in what was perceived as a normal manner. Three abreast. Usual, common distance apart. They suddenly stopped. They conferred all while taking turns glancing at him. Then they advanced, but their style of walk was suddenly now different.
Show time. The very plan in their heads made them walk differently than before, like getting into character for the parts they were about to play. Plus, my victim recalls that one of them split from the other two by a few feet, different from how they walked before the little conference. One off to the right. Two close to each other (this being one classic approach of a wolf-pack attack). When close, the one that split off talked to the victim. The classic gibberish question. He got the victim to partially turn away from the other two, and you guessed it, whereupon the man was jumped. And he saw it all unfolding. He saw trouble "walking," coming in the approach to him. He was able to recall every step of this for me yet did not react to the impending signals. When I asked him why in our interview, he shrugged his shoulders. No good answer came from him, but I and many others believe ignorance and denial are two common causes. "What should I do?" "That won't happen to me."
This subject matter fits right into the Stop 1 problem areas of the Stop 6. Stop 1 concerns itself with the standoff "showdown" or interview confrontation. But the distance runs as far out as "sniper range" and participants coming in and out of it.
Trouble doesn't always approach you; sometimes you approach it. You can walk into brewing trouble or a crime in progress in any store, school, bank, or restaurant. Anywhere, anytime in any rural, suburban, or urban environment. The only detection clues you have are educating yourself in the who, what, when, how, and why of crime and the where of location, location, location. When you approach a place, take a read of those folks already there or nearby.
In his book and classes, retired FBI Agent Joe Navarro singles out the famous "Stop and Frisk" law, the "Terry versus Ohio Supreme Court" decision, as a perfect example. The case is based on a Detective Dennis McFadden watching suspicious people linger "unnaturally" in front of a store. Fearing a robbery, the detective moved in and searched the men for weapons and found some. The Court's brief included the idea that some "nonverbal behaviors presage criminality" if properly decoded. It's the decoding part we have to explain.
"... it's the decoding part we have to explain ..."
As with the "Terry versus Ohio" case, if the suspect on your approach or on his approach is armed, he may give himself away. The burden of a handgun, a long gun under a long jacket, a long knife, or the subliminal desire to tap or touch the weapon, etc., may cause a person to walk and/or move oddly. Part of the weapon's shape may protrude from normal clothing outlines as he walks - something we pros call "a print."
How do you walk? It is, of course, certainly my hope that all people by now know that how they carry themselves is very important (along with their style of dress). If you walk timidly, you seem to become an easy crime target deep in the minds of observing bad guys. If you walk confidently, you seem to be less of a target. Need we bloviate on that common sense subject? I hope not.
For decades, law enforcement has been taught methods to detect suspicious behavior. Since the early 1990s, I've used as a motto, "I have never learned anything as a cop about criminals I didn't think citizens shouldn't also know." This is all part of my "bridging the gap between the military, the police, the martial artist, and the aware citizenry" mandate and philosophy as a teacher.
Professor Paul Slovic, Psychology Professor, University of Oregon, and said to be one of the world's most respected experts on risk, says that the intuitive system is fast "... and swayed by experiences ..." Another clinically recognized reason why experience connected with emotion is considered the best teacher. Short of experiences, we must watch, read, see, question, and absorb. Your brain is constantly absorbing information and recording the normal to spot the abnormal. Continue to educate yourself in every way possible.
There are a lot of semantics tossed around on this subject of fear and intuition, which enable entire books to be written about it, but your real, true gift is your ability to educate yourself and tutor the subcommittee in your brain that sends messages "up" to your conscious.
Some "approach" things to think about and look at:
Face (Appropriate expressions? Chin jutted out?)
Eyes (Where's he looking?)
Arms (Swinging? Still?)
Hands (Clenched fists? Patting body where weapons might be?)
Chest and back (Spread out?)
Clothes (Appropriate for weather? For the occasion?)
Accomplices nearby (In various patterns?)
Surreptitious (Ambush attempt, any or all of the above, only "smaller"?)
Other situational problems....
Being a student of the obvious, the normal, and the natural helps you spot the opposite. When you and trouble start bridging the gap of distance, try and read that approach, that "walk." Because you know, there's a kind of walk you walk when....
(For more on these subjects, check out this great book, What Every Body is Saying, by Joe Navarro. It is a keeper on this subject.)
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