By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
Two headline-grabbing crimes in Northeast Mississippi in recent days serve as here-and-now reminders that no person or place is immune to the possibility of violent crime.
In one incident, two unnamed residents returning to their Oxford apartment surprised burglars in the act. A resident pulled a handgun and wounded one of the suspects.
In the other, Amanda Price suffered a fatal gunshot after she and her dog may have startled a would-be burglar. When her husband, Ron, tried to come to her aid, he was also shot – but not fatally.
The Daily Journal asked three law enforcement and personal safety professionals what typical residents can do to be safer at home.
Jon Hodoway, who heads Nighthawk Custom Training in Centerton, Ark., said the typical burglar works days to avoid confrontation.
“‘Pookie’ wants to go into a home and get things that he can turn into money. He fears two things – being identified and getting hurt,” he said. “The way you deal with Pookie here is to make your home a hardened target.”
Hodoway recommends auto-dial alarms, outdoor lighting and reinforced doorframes, among other measures.
Tom Givens, a former police officer who’s a nationally known firearms trainer at Memphis-based Rangemaster, echoed that advice, recommending steel doors and frames.
“A good deadbolt means nothing when it’s connected to a flimsy frame,” he said. “I’ve opened doors with one kick many times.”
Another common failure is that people neglect to activate alarms.
“If you have an alarm system, turn it on,” Givens said. “It doesn’t work if all you do is write the check.”
He also recommends small dogs as “organic burglar alarms” that don’t intimidate friends or neighbors.
“If anybody needs biting, I’m going to do the biting,” he said.
Givens said protecting life always comes before protecting property. If a resident comes home and suspects a criminal may be inside, the wise choice is to make a tactical retreat and call 911 to have police clear the house.
“Don’t ever do anything dangerous that you pay somebody else to do,” he said.
Home invaders – usually armed robbers who enter homes they know to be occupied – are less common but are harder by far to repel.
Lt. Tim Tate, a detective with the Tupelo Police Department, says a combination of the “hardened target” approach and common sense can help. He recommends reinforcing not only outside doors and doorframes but an interior room as well.
“Have a safe room – like a bathroom in the center part of the house, using a strong door and frame with a good lock where you can get into it and call the police,” he said. “Don’t open your doors to somebody you don’t know, and keep your outside doors locked when you’re at home if you’re not going to be right there at them.”
Tate also emphasizes keeping doors locked while at home.
Hodoway said while good lighting and cameras are also good preventive measures, home invaders may use surprise and deceit along with force to gain entry.
“They will use overwhelming physical force to gain entry and to intimidate,” Hodoway said. “They enjoy that process, and they fear very little. Once you’ve been selected, you’re going to have to convince them very quickly that they’ve selected the wrong victim. You’re going to have to fight early and fight hard.”
Givens agrees that firearms can be a vital part of protecting against violent crime, but he cautions against overconfidence from merely owning a gun.
“A pistol is not a magic charm or talisman,” he said. “If someone has a pistol and no training, he’s worse off than if he didn’t have it. And training does not consist of watching movies.”
Hodoway said a crime-resistant mindset includes acknowledging unpleasant facts.
“If you believe nothing can happen to you, you are an easy victim,” he said. “You have to believe there are violent people out there who will do you harm for no good reason.”
Givens said the recent high-profile crimes in Oxford and New Albany prove one overarching point – the value of awareness: “You don’t get to pick when and where these things might happen.”