If you’ve been on our website, read any of our brochures, or received any correspondence from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) you know that our tagline is “Leading the Way for a Safer Pinellas.” We may be at the forefront, but the citizens of Pinellas County are close by our side. As you make New Year’s resolutions for your health, finances, and personal life, remember to resolve to take steps to reduce the chance of becoming a victim of crime.

We talk a lot about ways to keep yourself safe from scammers who want to part you from your hard-earned money. And we tell you over and over to lock your car doors to prevent auto burglaries and thefts. But your personal safety is even more important than these property crimes. Statistically, Pinellas County is a very safe place and your odds of being personally attacked by a stranger are extremely low. But when you are taking a walk, shopping, in a parking garage, or any of the public places where you could be a victim of a personal attack, you need to reduce your odds of being seen as a target.

The first component of personal safety is awareness. Far too many people move through life with their eyes glued to their phone. When you’re out in the world you should keep your attention on the world around you. Criminals planning to hurt or rob someone are searching for an easy target and will take advantage of your distraction. If you’re deep in what your favorite influencer posted on Instagram you aren’t likely to see the criminal lurking in the shadows. They will prey on your distraction. Beyond that, think about the impression you convey. Are you standing up straight, looking at passers-by, appearing purposeful and confident? If so, you’re less likely to be targeted.

Another important part of maintaining your personal safety is to avoid putting yourself in risky situations in the first place. When you park your car, look for good lighting and security cameras, and don’t park in an isolated area. Plan your ATM use for daylight hours. Walk with a friend. Of course you can’t always avoid riskier situations – sometimes you’ll find yourself alone in a parking garage or walking after dark. But when you do find yourself in these potentially less-safe situations, you need to be cognizant of the risk and try to compensate with awareness and preparedness.

If anything doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to act. It is better to be wrong and safe. If someone approaches you and makes you feel uncomfortable, shout at them to go away. Don’t be shy or worry about looking foolish – yell, scream, and draw attention to the situation. Criminals don’t like attention and will usually retreat if they have an audience or think people will peek out of their windows to investigate. You can also call 911 if a person or situation makes you feel unsafe.

I’m often asked about what to carry for protection. Your choice to carry a weapon or deterrent is a personal one. Pepper spray could be a good option. Some people carry a walking stick or even a golf club if they walk after dark to look like less of a target. Florida’s new permitless carry law means that most people can carry a concealed weapon, but I highly recommend that you learn to be proficient with anything you are carrying. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office offers a free carry concealed weapons (CCW) competency class – visit our website to find out more.

Our members dedicate themselves to keeping you as safe as possible, but you have to do your part too. The resolutions you make now can keep you safer throughout the year.

Posted by Laura Sullivan Monday, January 8, 2024 7:40:00 AM

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