Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Urban Safety 101

In the second episode of Mad Men, Sally, playing astronaut with her little brother, wears a full length plastic dry-cleaning bag over her head and torso. Her mother Betty calls her over, and viewers with a 21st century bias might presume it's to yell at the kid to get the plastic bag off her head. But the setting is the early 1960's, when smoking was still good for you and driving while drunk commonplace and tolerated.  Housewife Betty's complaint is about the dry-cleaned clothes that had been in the bag. "If those clothes are dirty, young lady," she scolds,  "You'll be punished." and then takes a drag off her cigarette.

Signs posted in the last year or so around the neighborhood remind me of that Mad Men episode because often the sentiment that seems so obvious, isn't.  Everything has its time and place context so non-city residents will leave the GPS on the dashboard and the laptop in the back seat because it's what they do back home in the village/town/suburb/attached garage.  And when they come to the track meets at the Reggie Lewis gym - or to shop in the Back Bay - they need a warning label - like the ones now found on many plastic bags.

Going by the numbers of people who walk around flashing their iphones or with their earbuds in or headphones on, non-city dwellers aren't the only ones who need some urban safety schooling. There's no guarantee that abiding by the below list won't get us mugged but the Cambridge Police advise the following among other things:

  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times and trust your instincts.
  •  Always walk with a friend or in a group when possible.
  •  Walk with confidence.  Keep your head up to observe your surroundings and don't look down at the ground.
  •  If you feel you are being followed, show you are suspicious – turn to look at the person. It sends a clear message that you will not be taken by surprise.
  •  Do not wear ear buds, headphones, or listen to music or talk on a phone when walking alone. 

  • The bit about talking on the phone surprised me.  I always used to feel a little safer if I was walking home late at night talking to someone on the phone as if that connection to another person would protect me.  I suppose it makes sense that chatting on a phone diverts attention from our surroundings so we become easier targets.

    My favorite urban safety advice comes from the police force at my place of employment:

    "The safety and security of the ...community... is the combined responsibility of the entire community. Safety is a two‐way street and the community must take precautions to protect itself.
    ...Each of you must assume a personal responsibility by taking precautions to prevent yourself
    from becoming a victim. The more people looking out for one another, the more effective we
    will be at protecting the community."

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