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Over the next few weeks, we’re sharing a few episodes of The Briefing Room. The series began on our Patreon feed but is going to become a brand new show in January. Today, we discuss situational awareness: Detective Dave and Detective Dan talk about ways to increase your safety by paying closer attention to what’s going on around you.

Read Transcript

Yeardley: [00:00:03] Hey, Small Town Fam, it’s Yeardley. How are you? Where are you? I hope you’re sitting down because we have some big news. Earlier this year, we launched a show called The Briefing Room over on Patreon. This series features candid conversations about trending topics, training issues, public safety, viral videos, and how law enforcement is navigating modern policing today. Since its launch, we’ve heard from so many of our Patreon subscribers who love the show that the information has been incredibly helpful and informative, and that more people ought to hear it. So, in January, The Briefing Room is coming to our main feed as its own weekly series. You heard that right. No more long hiatuses. No, seriously.

[00:00:52] Here’s how it’s going to go. We’re going to have our regular season of Small Town Dicks and then jump into a season of The Briefing Room. In the meantime, while we record new episodes of The Briefing Room for the main feed, we wanted to share some of our favorite episodes from the series that have already been posted on Patreon. First up, we have an episode called Situational Awareness. Small Town Fam, Detective Dave dropped some serious knowledge on us with this one. And then, about every two weeks, we will release another briefing room that has already aired on Patreon just to give you a taste of what’s to come in January. Thank you so much for being here. Let’s get to it.

[Briefing Room theme]

Dave: [00:01:40] Hey, Small Town Fam, welcome to The Briefing Room. Every day in police stations across the world, law enforcement officers begin their shift with briefing. Briefings are essential to communication and allow officers and command staff to discuss calls for service, crime trends, case law, wanted subjects, training opportunities, and policy changes. Briefing rooms provide a setting where the team can speak with each other candidly and openly.

Dan: [00:02:09] We wanted to create a similar setting for our listeners, The Briefing Room series will include intimate and formal conversations about trending issues, viral videos, guidance and training from detectives, as well as commentary on other topics impacting law enforcement and the true crime community.

Dan and Dave: [00:02:26] Welcome to The Briefing Room.

[theme music continues and ends]

Yeardley: [00:02:36] So, I have with me, Detective Dan.

Dan: [00:02:39] Hello.

Yeardley: [00:02:40] Hello, and I have Detective Dave.

Dave: [00:02:42] Greetings.

Yeardley: [00:02:43] Greetings, sir. One of the things that you both talked about a lot in Episode 2 of The Briefing Room, which is called Smash and Grab, was situational awareness. And I thought it would be really beneficial for our listeners, if you both could dig into that a little bit and talk about specifically, what you mean, what to look for, and what sort of crimes bring that phrase to the surface for you.

Dave: [00:03:12] Yeah. I think some people have a certain degree of situational awareness just as part of their nature, that they either pay more or less attention to their surroundings than others. Certainly, I was that way.

Yeardley: [00:03:26] Before you were a cop?

Dave: [00:03:27] Before I was a cop. And I think it is just from living in big cities. I’ve lived in some big cities on both coasts and been in high crime areas. And then, once I became a police officer, certainly that was amplified, that kind of situational awareness, because it’s just pounded into your head, nonstop. Be on the lookout. Always be paying attention for this. Listen to the hairs on the back of your neck, those types of things. And so, as a police officer, throughout your career, you respond to numerous crimes where the criminal or the suspect took advantage of someone because either, A, they looked like a vulnerable person, weren’t paying attention. Sometimes, you can’t help it. You’re just going to be victimized and that criminal have made up their mind. But people can take steps to mitigate some of the danger out there. And the biggest for me is just look around, listen, pay attention to the hairs on your neck. Anywhere I’m out, I am constantly looking at people’s hands in their pockets.

Yeardley: [00:04:30] That actually leads me to my question was, yes, I can look around, but I won’t see things the way you see them. So, with both of your experience in law enforcement, what sort of thing– you see a person and they aren’t walking with purpose, that might be a red flag, right? Or you see a person who won’t take their eyes off you or as you say, won’t take their hands out of their pockets. What sort of things?

Dave: [00:04:55] Yeah. You think about walking down the street and we talk about the hair on the back of your neck. I listened to that part of my physiology.

Yeardley: [00:05:06] I feel like you also though, have a game plan if the hair on back your neck stands up whereas I might just go, “Uh-oh, oh, fuck.”

Dan: [00:05:13] And I think to some degree, Dave and I and others who have been in physical confrontations with people were a little bit inoculated to being surprised as much.

Yeardley: [00:05:25] Sure. I can tell you, obviously, I’ve never been in a physical fistfight.

Dave: [00:05:30] Well, we got to change that.


Yeardley: [00:05:32] All right, let’s go outside.

Dave: [00:05:34] Let’s go– I don’t know where you want to go. But maybe The Grove and we could pick a fistfight. You’d be on TMZ tonight.

Yeardley: [00:05:41] [laughs]

Dan: [00:05:43] You talk about The Grove, and you were talking about how people need to have a purpose when they’re out there, like walk with purpose. And I made an observation yesterday, and I didn’t bring it up to either of you, but there’s a woman who was walking in front of us, who had her head down, buried on her phone while she was walking through a large crowd of people. And I’m thinking to myself, she doesn’t even know where she’s going. She’s going to walk into a signpost. And she was just weaving back and forth. Because she was walking so slowly, I was trying to get around her. And she was completely oblivious to what was going on around her. Those are the things that I’m talking about. That’s what a suspect would be looking at.

Dave: [00:06:22] Like, it’s the same as a lion outside a herd of wildebeest, you look for the one you can pick off. When I speak to people in presentations that I would provide when I was a detective, we had a slide about just being situationally aware. Pick your head up, look at your surroundings. If you feel like somebody’s following you, cross the street just to test them to see if they’re going to cross at the same time. Just be aware. That kind of awareness a lot of times is enough to dissuade somebody from selecting you because they go, “I’m not going to be able to surprise that person. I’m already on their radar,” things like that. We talked plenty of times about leaving stuff visible in your car. That’s a lack of situational awareness.

[00:07:08] Yesterday, where we ate lunch, I had my back to a majority of that restaurant, makes me extremely uncomfortable. Probably makes most police officers uncomfortable, to have their back to the majority of the building they’re in. So, constantly looking around seeing who’s entered the space, who’s left, certainly in the area we were yesterday. Hey, Zipper.

Yeardley: [00:07:33] Zipper, the cat, has come to pray at the altar of Dave

Dave: [00:07:36] Yeah. Certainly, a situation where we’re at yesterday with large crowds, there’s all types of threats that could be out there. I don’t live on a scale of 0 being not paying attention at all to 100 being paranoia, but I’m paying attention to my surroundings. When somebody’s acting disorderly or as if they’re off, I’m going to make a note of that. It’s important. I’m sure a lot of our listeners are the same way. But there are plenty of times in my career where I’ve taken a robbery or a theft report where somebody had their head buried in their phone and somebody ran up behind them and just pulled the purse right off them, right off their arm. It happens. And that’s in a small town.

[00:08:22] You think about in Los Angeles, the number of robberies that happen, those suspects are looking for certain characteristics in a victim because they’re worried about getting caught. They don’t want to have to overcome a large degree of resistance. They’re going to mitigate that by picking somebody who’s probably not going to offer resistance or is not paying attention.

Dan: [00:08:46] A really tragic example of somebody not being aware of what’s going on around them happened several years ago in our town where Dave and I worked. This young woman had stepped off of a public bus. She had her headphones in, and she had her face buried in her phone. She wasn’t paying attention, and there’s a major street that goes right through there, and cars are routinely going 45 or 50 miles an hour through there. And she didn’t even look. She didn’t even look when she walked out into the street, and she got hit by three cars. She got hit by two going in the same direction that pushed her over in the other lanes and a car hit her in the oncoming lanes. And she was killed. It’s a terrible accident. But you have to be a little more aware of what you’re doing. I think cell phones are obviously a huge problem with situational awareness.

[00:09:45] I even catch myself sometimes walking down the sidewalk in LA and I’m looking at my phone, and I snap out of it and go, “Put your phone in your pocket and walk. Get to your destination.” Some of the things that people can do out there is if you are situationally aware, A, you might be able to identify a threat before you encounter it. So, we’re talking about, you’ve been walking for a few blocks, and this person is still behind you, and you get that feeling of, “You know what? This doesn’t feel right.” Simply cross the street. Now, if they cross the street behind you, now your level of awareness goes up, because you’re aware of them now mimicking everything that you’re doing. That’s probably going to put you in a position where you’re thinking, “Okay, a confrontation might be imminent. Start developing a game plan.”

Yeardley: [00:10:35] Like duck into a store.

Dan: [00:10:37] Duck into a store. Maybe you just get on the phone, call 911. That’s what we do, we come out. And all you simply have to say is, “I’ve been walking for several blocks. I think a male is following me. And can you send a patrol officer out here?”

[background noise]

Yeardley: [00:10:52] Oh, my God, the cat is losing her mind playing soccer.

[cat growling]

Yeardley: [00:10:58] [laughs]

Dan: [00:10:58] She’s throwing a fit.

Yeardley: [00:10:59] She’s really throwing a tantrum.

Dan: [00:11:02] So, like I was saying, when you’re developing a game plan, say, you’re a female, and the only thing that you have are maybe a set of car keys and maybe there’s a little pepper spray bottle on there, that’s a good time to just have it in your hand and have it ready, because if it does happen, it’s probably going to happen fast. If this assailant or whoever means to cause you harm or take property from you wants to do so, it’s going to happen really fast. And what are they going to look for? They’re probably going to look for an ideal location where it can happen with no witnesses. So, if you’re coming up on a dark alley, I would probably avoid that.

Yeardley: [00:11:39] Yes. If I call 911, because I think someone’s following me, do the police get irritated?

Dan: [00:11:45] No. Look up at the street signs and know where you are.

Yeardley: [00:11:51] Also in a car, right? No matter what, you want to be able to say, “I’m at–“

Dave: [00:11:56] Did you see me yesterday when we’re going to lunch? Every intersection I’m picking up a street sign. So, I know what’s intersection I’m at, in case the shit hits the fan right then and there, or we getting to a fender bender, I know where I’m at. So, I call the police. Those are little things. And for aspiring police officers out there, get in the habit before you ever put in to be a police officer. As you go through intersections or if you’re on a long stretch of road, look at a mailbox and pick up the numbers on the address so you know which thousand block you’re in.

Dan: [00:12:29] Milepost markers. That’s one of the things that we go by in law enforcement. I’m on this road at milepost 3, westbound.

Yeardley: [00:12:36] Interesting. So, I think in addition to being aware of what’s around you, be aware of where you actually are.

Dave: [00:12:45] Yeah, I’ve been caught before where I had an idea of where I was, but I was actually two streets away.

Yeardley: [00:12:52] Which could be all the difference between “I’m there in 45 seconds,” “I’m there in three minutes.”

Dave: [00:12:57] Yeah, 20 seconds when you’re fighting, feels like a long time. It’s just little things. So budding police officers, get in the habit now picking up street signs, and knowing your cardinal directions north, south, east, and west. That is invaluable practice that you can do just driving to the grocery store.

Dan: [00:13:15] It’s hard to get help there if they don’t know where you’re at.

Yeardley: [00:13:17] Sure. If they’re trying to go to the wrong street.


Dave: [00:13:21] That is a lonely feeling. “Uh, you guys coming? “You told us you’re at this place and you’re not.” “Oh, shit. Yeah, that’s my bad.”

Yeardley: [00:13:32] “Shit.” [chuckles]

Dan: [00:13:33] It drives me nuts when I watch like Cops, and these guys are in foot pursuit. And they’re mic’ed up. So you should be able to hear everything they’re saying. And they’re in foot pursuit and all they say is, “I’m in foot pursuit.” And then they never give a direction of travel, or where they’re at or, “We’re continuing westbound through this alley,” they don’t give any of that. They just keep running and they’re so target locked that they’re not giving other essential information to responding officers.

Yeardley: [00:14:01] That’s a problem.

Dave: Yeah, as a responding cover unit. It’s happened to me before. I’m sure I’ve given out poor radio traffic before, it’s happened. I’m familiar with a few cases where I was like, “Okay, you were a shitshow on that one.” But there’s other times where you’re trying to respond to cover somebody and you’re the asshole cop who’s just sitting in the middle of an intersection with his lights and the sirens on going, “Well, I don’t know whether to go north, south, east or west. I’m waiting to be able to make that determination.”

Yeardley: [00:14:27] Right. Just going back to what you’re talking about. If you think you’re being followed for a moment, one of the things that’s been happening here in Los Angeles is people have been putting these little trackers on cars.

Dan: [00:14:27] Apple tags.

Yeardley: [00:14:46] Apple tags on nice cars, and then they get the GPS location of where you have stopped. Depending on the time of day, I suppose it’s more likely that you’ve stopped at home versus somewhere else. But that is a new wrinkle in the follow home.

Dan: [00:15:05] Yeah, so these Apple tags, they’re tiny, and they’re going to be hard to find. I mean, there’s a million places on the exterior of a car that you could hide one of those, and it not be detected. And whoever puts it on there could do so with relative ease just by simply maybe walking by the car and looking innocuous.

Dave: [00:15:25] You mean it’s not like the GPS magnets that we used to have to climb under cars and find a nice part of the frame without ever being discovered?


Dan: [00:15:33] Yeah, think about like, you could put double-sided tape on the back of one of those Apple tags, walk by and place it under someone’s sideview mirror. When’s the last time you looked under your sideview mirror?

Yeardley: [00:15:45] Right. Or, pretend that you dropped something and then stick it under the car-ish?

Dan: [00:15:50] Yeah, in the wheel well, a lot of people have gas tank covers that aren’t locked. You can open that, place it in there. Police officers have now found Apple tags on their vehicles.

Yeardley: [00:16:02] Like their marked cars?

Dan: [00:16:04] Yes. So, if you’re a criminal, especially in a small town, if you know that there are only a few police cars out there, and you’ve marked them all with these Apple tags, then you know where they are and maybe that directs you to where you commit crimes.

Yeardley: [00:16:19] So, what do we do about this? As a citizen, how would one mitigate that threat?

Dan: [00:16:25] Apparently, Apple’s aware of this problem, they’ve made an update for iPhone where you will be notified of unwanted Apple tags at significant locations. Meaning your phone will know when you’re at home, or you’re at work and if there’s an unrecognized air tag near you, you get a notification. There’s an app for Android phones called Tracker Detect that you can scan around you for AirTags. But our listeners should google how to do this, because you have to go into your phone settings menu and make sure that some features are enabled. It’s also worth saying though that I have these features enabled on my phone, and I have had friends over that have AirTags on their keys and in their wallets, and I did not get a notification about it. So, it’s a little unclear to me how reliable the detection is, or exactly how that technology works. I don’t know. Maybe it knew that me and my friend’s phone knew each other, and we were in the same room. But I think it would be good to talk about how to manually look for trackers as well.

So, if you’re out in public, say your car was parked in a parking structure, and you went shopping at the mall, and on your way home, it sounds inconvenient, it sounds probably not reasonable to a lot of people. But maybe go to another populated area and get out of your car and maybe just do a quick walk around. I’m saying that because I don’t think it’s always safe or smart to do it in the actual parking structure where the Apple tag might have been placed, because they might be watching for you right there. And, of course, they might be watching you leave and just in case they get lost in traffic, they still know where you’re going and they can track you real time on their phone. So, at the very least, take a look around your car. Check under the wheel wells, check under the rear and front bumpers, check under your mirrors, check any place that you think that one of these tags might be secreted on your car.

Dave: [00:18:27] That seems like a lot of work.

Yeardley: [00:18:30] [laughs] A lot of work to save your own life.

Dave: [00:18:33] No, but the premise is if something doesn’t look right, investigate it. If something doesn’t feel right, investigate. Some great advice I got right when I started as a police officer was, “Hey, there are times where you’re going to feel like you’re being nosy.” It’s actually what you’re paid to do. So, embrace it. And something doesn’t look right, I always listen to that. And it’s from a learned experience where you go, “Ah, I’ve seen that before,” “Ah, I’ve felt that before.”

Dan: [00:19:03] Just going back to when we’re talking about making a game plan with the pepper spray and everything, I would say the third thing out there is if you’re doing all those things, preparing yourself, doing a little countersurveillance and showing that you are aware of what’s going on, that might be enough for whoever’s pursuing you, or is planning on victimizing you. Maybe they say, “You know what? That’s probably not my best victim right there.”

Yeardley: [00:19:31] You’re not an easy target anymore. They want the least amount of resistance, I assume.

Dave: [00:19:36] And we talk about crime prevention. And back in college, back in the early to late 90s, I took a class called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. And it’s all about target hardening your house, that you don’t have bushes that would obscure a window, so bad guy can get in between your house and a big bush and have complete cover from the street. That you have lighting, that there aren’t dark alcoves that are adjacent to access areas to the back of your property. That you lock your windows during the summer day when you’re away at work so that your windows, you don’t leave them open. The number of burglaries in summer of people saying, “Yeah, they came through the back window. I didn’t think anybody could get into my backyard.” You got to think how criminals think is basically the gist of this.

Dan: [00:20:26] That was one of my caseloads, investigate a lot of burglaries. One of the things that was in common with many of these burglaries, the point of entry was the air conditioner in the window. So, they had to just push it in. If it wasn’t secured, some people put screws into the wood frame of the house to hold it in there, but some people don’t. And they would just push the air conditioner into the house, and they would go through the big open window right there.

[00:20:54] Get a Ring camera at the very least for the front of your house. Get a doorbell camera, it doesn’t have to be Ring, I’m not sponsored by Ring. I’ve got one. I think they work incredibly well. I always get an alert on my phone. You can talk through the Ring doorbell camera. You can talk and say, “How can I help you?” If someone’s at your front door. Sometimes, just seeing the cameras enough of a deterrent, where people say, “Ah, man, I’m caught on camera,” and they just turn around and they leave. They don’t always, but sometimes they do.

[00:21:26] Talking about burglary, environmental design for your exterior doors, doors that access the exterior of your house, front door, back door, sometimes the garage door, on the side of your garage leads into your garage, put longer screws into the strike plate on your doorframe. So, the strike plate is that little metal piece about waist high where it’s got a little hole in it where the–

Yeardley: [00:21:52] Oh, the tongue of the door latch goes into?

Dan: [00:21:55] Yeah. If you put longer screws in there, it’s a little harder to break through those doors.

Dave: [00:22:01] You want to screw that gets into the house frame, not just into the doorframe. So, we’re talking three-inch screws. That wood is much more structurally sound than just screwing a striker plate into a doorframe and hoping that after a couple of kicks that it’s not going to break. There’s a difference I can tell from using “the key” to hitting a house that’s equipped with a well-defended door versus one that’s just like a couple of screws, no biggie. You can knock those off the hinges. The ones that are built well, that takes several kicks, several hits with the key to get in.

Yeardley: [00:22:40] The key is the big heavy thing that looks like a big metal tube that you bang into a door to open it, right?

Dave: [00:22:48] Right.

Yeardley: [00:22:49] Funny that you call it a key.

Dave: [00:22:50] Because it opens every door.

Yeardley: [00:22:52] Sure. [laughs]

Dave: [00:22:54] Yeah, so just little things that alert a suspect and paying attention. “I’m not the one to fuck with today.” You can do little things that will dissuade a criminal from selecting you as a target. And it can be as easy as just having a motion light on the side of your garage.

Dan: [00:23:10] They even make motion lights out there that follow you. We did a drug search warrant at a house, and we creeped up on the side of this house and motion light comes on. It was a spotlight. And we were like, “Oh, my God, we’re right in the middle of the light. We got to move.” And we moved and it followed us. The most uneasy feeling in the world. Like somebody was actually steering the light and you’re thinking to yourself, “Oh, this is not good.” “I see you.”

Yeardley: [00:23:40] [chuckles] That is amazing. That’s all really good, interesting stuff. I’m glad that you answered the question about what to look for, not just listen to the hair standing up on the back of your neck. Because as a civilian, I think the list of things to look for is pretty short. As somebody who’s experienced in dealing with suspects, it’s quite a bit longer.

Dave: [00:24:05] Yeah. And I know we’re beating a dead horse here, but even as a police officer, just your rhythm and cadence is your answer, what should be an easy question would be enough to throw up red flags for me.

Yeardley: [00:24:19] What do you mean?

Dave: [00:24:20] What’s your date of birth? And the answer begins with “Un.”

Yeardley: [00:24:26] Uh-huh. Uh.

Dave: [00:24:28] That’s bridging, that’s buying time.

Dan: [00:24:30] Or, they just give you a month in a day, but they don’t give you the year.

Yeardley: [00:24:33] Oh, because they’re trying to figure out the math.

Dave: [00:24:36] And somebody who’s not discerning, here we ago, I say, “What’s your date of birth?” And they go, “I’m 28.” Somebody go, “Oh, you just told me he’s 28.” And I go, “He didn’t answer the question.” So, it’s little things like that. [chuckles] I’d ask somebody who’s 40 years old who, within moments, I know we’re playing the name game. And you say, “You ever had an ID?” “No.” “You’re 40, never had an ID? Come on.”

Dan: [00:25:04] Yeah, people who are in their late 20s, early 30s and they don’t know what their social security number is, everybody knows that.

Dave: [00:25:13] I just pay attention to little stuff. Certainly, I had that to a degree before but once I became a police officer, and you have a few field training officers and some experience get their hands on you, it just amplifies your suspiciousness of folks and circumstances.

Yeardley: [00:25:13] Yeah. Fascinating. Thank you both.

Dan: [00:25:34] Stay safe out there. It seems like I always say that but–

Yeardley: [00:25:38] You mean it, so it’s all right. [chuckles]

Dan: [00:25:40] I do. I don’t want people to be victimized at all. I hope the best for everyone.

Dave: [00:25:46] Yeah, I look at pockets, hands, and your degree of compliance.

Dan: [00:25:51] I had a sergeant when I was on patrol, and the last thing he would say in every briefing was, “Watch their hands.”

Dave: [00:25:57] That’s in the, “The shit that makes cops nervous,” that’s on page number one.

Yeardley: [00:26:02] Interesting. You heard it here, Small Town Superfam.

Dan: [00:26:05] We could go on and on and on.


Yeardley: [00:26:07] We could, but we’re not going to. Thank you so much for joining us here today. You guys are the best. Stay safe out there. Really, stay safe.

Dan: [00:26:19] Thanks.


Yeardley: [00:26:22] What’s the matter with you guys?

Dan: [00:26:22] What the fuck? What do I say?

Yeardley: [00:26:24] All you have to do say–

Dan: [00:26:25] What do I have to do with my hands?


Dan: [00:26:29] Until next time.

[Briefing Room theme]

Yeardley: [00:26:35] Hey, Small Town Superfam. So, The Briefing room will return on March 11th, with new episodes dropping every other week thereafter. And, of course, on the week’s there’s no Briefing Room, we have other goodies planned for you here on Patreon, so stick around because there’s lots to talk about. Thank you so much for listening. We are so happy you’re here.

[Briefing Room theme continues]

[00:27:05] Well, that was delicious. Here’s how it happened. Just like our main episodes, Small Town Dicks on Patreon is produced by Gary Scott and me Yeardley Smith and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And Logan also composed our Patreon theme music. So, that’s fancy. And finally, our books are cooked, and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell. The team is forever grateful for your support.

[Briefing Room theme continues and ends]

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