One of the things you will see us pro-rights activists harping on from time to time is "situational awareness". What does that mean? Well, the snarky answer is, "Exactly what it says," but the more-complete answer can be delivered by way of a story.
Last week, I was coming home early from work to meet up with HVAC technicians to try to get our upstairs heat pump replaced (scheduled for this Wednesday… thank God), and on Wednesday, I happened to notice a female walking around our neighborhood. She was not anyone I recognized as living there, and to compound that observation, she had a very thick clipboard piled high with loose papers, and some kind of nametag pinned to her blaze-orange polo shirt. Despite the "No Solicitation" sign at the entrance to our neighborhood (and it is pretty obvious… right beneath our Neighborhood Watch sign), we do still get more than a few door-to-door types (see my previous story), so I did not really think anything of it.
Until Thursday, when I saw her again. You have to understand that our neighborhood was built a couple of decades ago, so it is neither very large, nor very dense – I could canvass the entire thing in a day as a door-to-door type, and hardly break a sweat (well, any other time than last week, that is – we reached 96 as a "real" temperature). So, at this point, I shot an email to our homeowners’ association president asking what that little sign at the entrance to the neighborhood did for us, and I alerted Better Half to the woman’s presence, and commented that we might want to keep an eye on her.
Which we did, when we saw her again on Friday afternoon. This time, she walked up to one of our neighbor’s doors, knocked on it, immediately turned away, and got on her cell phone right after leaving their front porch, constantly looking behind her as she walked away from the house, as if she was watching to see if someone answered the door.
I do not know about the rest of you, but to my naive arse, that smells suspiciously like someone casing houses and determining when people are and are not home, especially since she saw us come home and did not knock on our door.
So I called the cops. Given that the woman was not beating down doors, I did not use 911, but rather dialed their non-emergency line, but I calmly explained the situation, gave them the full backstory, clarified my suspicions, and so forth, and they indicated they would get in touch with dispatch and see about sending a car over our way. Two hours later, when I saw her again, I called them back, and filed another report. Turns out, my worries may have been valid and my actions correct… this email was from the aforementioned HA president:
We are an officially registered Neighborhood Association and have gone through the Neighborhood Watch program (this is where our No Soliciting sign on the first signpost came from). You are therefore allowed to inform solicitors that there is a No Soliciting Policy in our neighborhood.
If they do not leave, we are to call the Sheriffs Dept at ###-#### to report it.
There have been some females in UT orange trying to sell security upgrades for the past few days. Please inform them of our policy or just don’t answer the door. If you wanted a security upgrade, you would call the company yourself. Please do not let a stranger into your home – we don’t know what their motives really might be.
If there are any more problems, please keep the HA board informed.
With this follow-up from a neighbor:
Just wanted to let you know that WATE Channel 6 did an investigation on these door to door solicitors we have had in the neighborhood this past week. The company they represent, Vivint, Inc., has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau with over 1,400 complaints. They have also been fined by several state governments for using intimidating sales tactics and not informing customers that they are legally entitled to a 3-day cancellation period. If you know of anyone in the neighborhood that signed up with this company and have changed their mind, you may want to let them know that they have 3 days to cancel the contract. You can find more information about this company at www.wate.com.
And this additional information from another:
[Husband] and I encountered this woman two times the past several days. I did once by myself and we did together yesterday. She never once offered to inform us of her product. I am wondering if it is because we have cameras. Last night, at 10:00 p.m., she was sitting down on the corner waiting for her ride. We were out walking again so we stopped and spoke with her. This was our third encounter with her. Again, she offered no info on her company until we asked her the name of it. She had worked that day with [name] and another couple on [street], but told us after all, that they had not been approved. Her ride came. It was a PT cruiser, with plates from UTAH. She told us the name of her company and when we arrived home, we looked them up on the internet. They are based out of UTAH.
They basically deal with security systems, but they have been fined in numerous states for not complying with licensing requirements, to the tune of $40,000-$50,000 each state. They have also had 1400 complaints filed with the BBB. They have operated in numerous states, mostly from the North to South in the middle of the U.S. Their colors are orange, so that was not a local ploy. It seems, however, that they have moved in here to try to scam us before Tennessee fines them.
These people should not be allowed in here any more and we wanted everyone to know about this. What kind of company would leave a woman sitting out at 10:00 at night, with no food since 1:00 that day and only water from caring residents? They must be offering her good money or she is in on the whole deal herself to put up with that.
I will, of course, refrain from linking directly to Vivint Inc.’s webpage, but I will link you to the aforementioned WATE news report on Vivint, the 15 complaints filed against Vivint at RipoffReport and these 1424 complaints against Vivint on the Better Business Bureau along with the documentation that police, safety, and other government agencies in Louisiana; Kennewick, WA; Arkansas; and Oregon have leveled charges, allegations, and fines against Vivint for engaging in what can only be described as particularly disgusting business practices.
So was the lady casing houses? Hard to say – we did not answer the door the one time she knocked. But according to the commenters at the WATE article, other Vivint representatives were:
They stopped @ our house and wanted to know all about the "technology" in our house. Security system, thermostats, TV’s, DVR’s, computers, etc… He said I would get all of this "FREE"… B.S!!! Nothing is FREE. You just want in my house to figure out if it’s worth coming back and breaking into and robbing. I didn’t tell him a single thing and also told the guy to get off my property before I called the cops.
Regardless of whether or not this woman was attempting to determine if there was anything worth stealing in our house, she still represents a company I would rather have nowhere near my home.
So what does this story have to do with situational awareness? It is situational awareness – I observed my surroundings to establish a baseline, I noticed something out of the ordinary, I alerted those who would be able to assist me, and I continued to monitor the situation as it developed. In this particular case, "confrontation" was actually one of the last arrows in my quiver, which is just as well.
In addition to adequately illustrating the importance of observation, this example also brings up a few important points about home safety:
Never allow someone into your house unless you know them and know why they are there. In fact, if you can avoid it, never open a door to a stranger – employ your peep hole and talk to them through the door, or install an armored screen door.
If someone refuses to leave your home or property after you ask them to, call the police. At that point, they are trespassing, and should be handled accordingly.
Strangers asking about what kind of electronics, equipment, property, or toys you own are not there to help you. Quite the opposite – they are probably taking notes to use later when they come back and start robbing homes.
Invest in a home security system, and use it. Better Half and I are very satisfied with SimpliSafe (use "SAFENOW" as a checkout code for 5% off) primarily because there is no monitoring contract (or even requirement) and it was all self-installable, but there are other options too. I need to do a review on that stuff at some point…
Finally, if you carry a firearm, carry at home. This is something I need to work on myself, and I have been considering a pocket firearm for just that purpose.