The Attack Cycle

The Attack Cycle

A common misconception regarding street crime is that it is random. While that is true for a small percentage of crimes, usually the victim is targeted for specific reasons.

There is a deliberate, if unconscious, process to a criminal selecting a target known as the attack cycle and understanding how it works can help you stay safe.

I first became aware of the attack cycle as a formalized concept in an article in Shooting Illustrated magazine article by Steve Tarini. I had long thought of this in terms of fewer steps and Steve’s breakdown offered a few opportunities I had not considered.

In a nutshell, an attacker will follow a set series of steps when carrying out an attack:

  1. Look
  2. Choose
  3. Stalk
  4. Close
  5. Attack

Let’s look at each in more detail.

First things first, the attacker has to see you. If you seem like an easy enough target, they select you for attack. They then will stalk you to further size you up and decide if you are worth the effort and if they can get away with an attack. They then close the distance… and attack!

How can we use this information?

  1. Be aware of your surroundings. I know you hear that preached a LOT around here but it is like breathing. You just have to do it! Victims of street attacks often say something like “he came out of nowhere…” Uh, no. You weren’t paying attention. Was your face buried in your cellphone? Were you too busy talking to your companions? Make time, all the time, to look around and take note of anyone or anything that seems out of place or suspicious!

  2. Look out… no, I mean out there. One thing I like to do before I get out of my car at a store or when I go back to my car, it to look around. I look first in the immediate vicinity - say, a 5 yard radius - and then I look out to 25 yards or so. Try it sometime… you may be surprised at who you find looking back ;-)

  3. Avoid dangerous activities and areas. I like the way John Farnham says it: don’t go stupid places, or do stupid things, with stupid people. A late night run to the local convenience store might not be the best call. Hanging out with people who routinely cause or get into trouble is asking for trouble of your own. Going to gatherings where there is excessive drinking and rowdiness might not be the fun time you hoped for. Be smart about what you choose!

  4. Be mindful of how you appear to others. It is not wise to flash cash or expensive items in public. You should also take care not to leave valuables in your vehicle in plain sight. (Do I also need to say it? Do NOT leave a gun in your car unless it is secured in a safe!) Also, I’ll say again, one thing criminals look for are people not paying attention ;-)

  5. Make eye contact and speak to people. This is just good manners, first of all, but it also is an easy way to let people know you are aware of them. It also takes a certain amount of confidence just to speak to a stranger and it can take away the element of surprise. At a distance it is often enough just to make eye contact and nod. I would caution you against staring… some may take that as a threat or a challenge.

  6. Be prepared for an attack. If you are selected and an attacker manages to catch you by surprise, at least be prepared to fight. In the moment you may decide it is safer to surrender your property and hope for the best. Just don’t let that be the only tool in your bag of tricks. If the flag flies, be ready to fight!


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