By Marci Narum
Lt. Lori Flaten has seen it all. As a member of the Mandan Police department for 39 years, she can spot a dangerous situation, and predict the outcome. And it’s not always for the best, unfortunately. She would love more than anything to change that. And so she keeps trying–talking to parents, kids, and teens about safety and crime prevention.
While she says there are trends in behaviors and choices that put particular age groups at higher risk for potential harm, there are things we can all to do help each other become more aware and ultimately safe in our own communities and neighborhoods. Here are Lt. Flaten’s tips for your children, teens, Millennials, elderly family members, and women in general:
Children: Arm them with information
“Parents, if I can tell you one thing, as early as your kid can start doing this, teach them their first and last name, Mom and Dad’s real name, phone number, and address. If they’re too young to know their address and phone number, then where you work. This will help us a law enforcement get your child to you in case of an emergency situation; the child can tell us, ‘Mommy works at’…”
Teens: Keep talking about social media dangers
“The biggest thing with teens is they keep doing things on the internet that they shouldn’t. More and more, we are getting notified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. One girl thought she was talking to a kid about her age, 15 or 16, locally. But she wasn’t. She was talking to an adult predator out of state. This is happening more, and more, and more. We do presentations in the schools but it seems like they just don’t get it. It seems like they get sucked in so deep before they realize who this person really is. And some don’t understand how to get out or they’re too ashamed or too afraid to tell somebody. There’s been a lot of that lately.
“Here’s one of the biggest issues–you, as a parent take away all of their devices, but they go to school and their friend has a phone or a tablet. Parents shut down an account, but it doesn’t matter. Off we go with somebody else’s device.
“I thought the more it’s been out there in the press and presentations it would stop but it hasn’t. It has gotten worse,because more of these kids are on social media and nobody is monitoring them. They know so much more than their parents, and there are just so many predators out there.”
Millennials: Listen to your gut
Lt. Flaten says “North Dakota Nice” gets us into trouble sometimes. Young adults on the dating scene, especially, may be too quick to believe that people are who they say they are. Flaten says a woman should trust her instinct.
“If you’re a young woman, I would tell you to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not feeling right for a reason. Maybe you can’t logically process exactly why, but we do still have some survival instincts in us. Trust your instinct. I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to victims of something and they said, ‘you know, I was getting this weird feeling. But then I thought, that wouldn’t be polite to think this guy is creepy.’ NO! Trust your instinct!”
If you’re at a bar, don’t take drinks you didn’t order, and don’t leave your drink somewhere for long periods of time unattended. On first dates, Flaten suggests you drive separately so you have a way out, and always tell someone where you’re going, and with whom. Flaten says it’s all common sense.
“If you think you’re getting such a creepy vibe and you did come together, call or text your friend, ‘Can you pop in here?’ Until you really get to know someone, meet them somewhere instead of having them pick you up.”
Elderly Family Members: Report suspicions
Lt. Flaten says senior citizens are especially vulnerable to predators in our communities. People in their 70s, 80s, and 90s are becoming victims of not just scams, but abuse.
“If you think something is happening, report it. There are so many elderly people being victimized. Depending on the situation, we can help. If someone says, ‘I know this lady, her grandson is over there ripping her off,’ there could be criminal charges. Report it. Even if something may not be a police issue, we usually know where it should go.”
Women: Pay attention
“As people get older, they don’t believe bad things happen here and they don’t prepare like they should and that’s simple things like locking doors. Lock the door from your garage into your house. People need to think about these things. Don’t leave your keys in your car. Don’t leave valuables. That’s why someone breaks into vehicles.
“Pay attention. So many people are looking at the ground or texting on their phone. And that’s who someone’s going to target.
“Let’s say you’re alone. You come out of a building and you’re alone or it’s dark. First look before you even leave that building. Look around. When you step out, scan the area. And pay attention to what you’re doing. Have your keys ready before you even leave. Be looking around. Most criminals size up their potential victim. They are looking for that distracted victim and they’re going to be there before that person even realizes it. So be aware of your surroundings. And if anything gives you a creepy feeling or doesn’t feel right, then go back into that building or don’t leave that building. And then call us. We’ll come and check the parking lot. We will walk you to your vehicle. That’s what the police are there for.”
Finally, Lt. Flaten says be assertive in defending yourself.
“Through the years I’ve had people say, ‘I didn’t want to hurt them.’ It’s that’s politeness again. Why did you not want to hurt the person who was trying to hurt you? No, you don’t have to be nice to people who are being really, really, mean and trying to hurt you. If someone wants to hurt you, hurt them worse.
“And scream! Kick them, hit them, and poke your fingers in their eyes. Think about the places on your body that hurt the worst. That’s what you go for. If somebody is attacking you, you are not going to get charged for breaking their arm or scratching their arm. If somebody is attacking you, defend yourself and don’t be polite.”