Report on Chief Inspector Amanda McGrath’s talk – Fostering Security in the Workplace
Personal Safety – 12th March 2008
The Business Matters Trust is very grateful to Deloitte for their hospitality in the provision of the venue and a most generous buffet lunch.
Iain Archibald welcomed guests to the first of a new series of lunchtime talks based around the theme: Fostering Security in the Workplace. He introduced Chief Inspector Amanda McGrath of Lothian and Borders Police who is currently seconded for one year to Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce to work with the Edinburgh business community to protect their assets. Amanda reminded us that people are our most important assets and so it was highly appropriate for her to be speaking on “Personal Safety”.
Amanda started by giving us a brief autobiographical portrait of herself and her career to date. Most of her career has been spent in CID and, consequently, she has had interactions with many “less pleasant” members of society in the context of major and violent crimes. She invariably comes into contact with people who are the victims of such crime and are trying to deal with the aftermath of what has happened. She stated that, in almost every circumstance that she investigates, when she asks “could this have happened to me?” the answer is almost always “yes” but only if the circumstances pertained. Amanda was at pains to point out that we can all play a significant part in modifying circumstances – keeping ourselves safe by being prepared and aware. She was able to reassure us that this type of occurrence had not happened to her.
Key point one: perceptions of crime do not equate to crimes committed
Amanda described how she had become more nervous about crime and her safety when she was away from active duty with the police bringing up her family, but said that on returning to work her confidence had very quickly re-established itself. She suggested that this was because, while working, she has access to the true crime statistics and is not so subject to media “hype” which can raise perceptions of problems which are not actually there. Amanda quoted two examples of stories which had been circulating on the internet and even in papers, including one about a “car-jacking” which were, in fact, hoaxes. She stated that the perception and fear of crime usually far outweighs the reality, but if the fear is real then it still needs to be addressed of course. She suggested that the best way to deal with such spam email is to ignore it and delete it, saying that, in case we didn’t know, it is not police policy to put out safety alerts via email.
Key point two: the one element in crime that we have some control over
There had, however, been one incident during her time with the Metropolitan Police in London which had affected her and stayed with her. This involved a young man, attacked by two others seeking to rob him, who had decided to “have a go” and had paid the penalty with his life. As she related the story she drew attention to the three things which have to come together in order for a crime to be committed. These are Desire, Ability and Opportunity. The only one we as potential victims can influence effectively is the third one: we can minimise the risk and lessen the opportunity. This is no different from assessing risks to our businesses, determining what level of risk we are prepared to tolerate, and putting plans in place to minimise the risks that we deem are most important.
Amanda then asked us to write down particular concerns that we have as individuals about when and how on the way to or from work we can be the victims of crime. After these had been listed on a flip chart the topics included:
- The risk of being mugged at night when on your own in town or in a multi-storey car park
- The risk of assault from rowdy drunks on late night buses
- The risk of verbal abuse from crowds of youths if you catch their eye
- The risk of identity theft at a cash machine
- The risk of theft from your car when stopped at traffic lights
Taking these one by one, Amanda suggested ways to deal with the situation and drew out principles which we might adhere to.
- Make sure someone knows where you are if you are working late and when you are likely to be home. If you are going home by car, move it earlier in the evening to be as close to your office (or to the pay station if in a car park) as possible. Risk-assess the area while you are walking to your car – if there appears to be a risk, then take a detour or wait. And by the way: if you use underground car parks or multi-storeys, be sure to park by reversing into your space; this means that when you come to leave, you will have an unimpeded view and thieves can play fewer tricks on you!
- When you board a bus, assess the situation. Go and sit beside someone you are comfortable with. Listen to your sixth sense. If you are uncomfortable, then go and stand by the driver and be stubborn, e.g. don’t get off just because it is your stop. Use your mobile phone if necessary before getting off the bus to alert someone to the situation.
- Take a different route home if you know there is likely to be a potential situation. Amanda suggested to us that the attitude “it’s my right to walk down this street” is just not worth the risk you might run.
- Be alert to your surroundings and don’t carry too much cash. For starters, don’t walk along with earphones in! As for ID theft, it needs a device in the machine, so take a good look at the machine, and if you have the slightest niggle of a doubt, go elsewhere. To prevent opportunistic theft, develop “situational awareness”. Walk with purpose, with your eyes up, don’t stare but constantly assess the situation. Use reflections in shop windows as you walk to check what is going on behind you. Amanda assured us that she does this all the time and the purpose is not to check her hair! She related a situation which had happened to her and a friend when her practice of doing this had prevented her friend having her handbag pick-pocketed.
- Always lock the doors of your car when driving in a built-up area. Even when driving, don’t leave valuables visible on the seat but place them in the foot-well or in the boot. Don’t be worried about the doors being locked in the event of an accident – the police have very effective ways of getting into cars quickly!
From the discussion of these examples Amanda drew out the three principles which she wanted us to take away in order to be less fearful and more confident about our personal safety:
- Stay alert – make it a habit
- Avoid risks – don’t be a hero. Assess why someone is attacking you – if it is for your wallet, give it up – preferably by throwing it on the ground to create distance and to allow you to escape the situation safely (and an idea: perhaps carry a dummy one containing a couple of notes)
- Trust your instincts – we all have a sixth sense which we should use
Q and A time
We were then able to spend some time in a question and answer session:
“Does the City View CCTV system get results?” Amanda gave an emphatic “yes” in response to this: it acts both as a deterrent and also a means of detection. Coverage is not good in all areas but there are expansions going on. We should not rely on CCTV systems, however, since it us who must keep ourselves safe.
“Where is the safest place to walk on the pavement?” and “What should you do if you are on your own and someone is approaching you, about whom you may have concerns?” Amanda brought us back to risk assessment again. Walk where you will not be fenced in. If you are unhappy about someone, there is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should make eye contact. It may be appropriate and useful to let them know that you know they are there by a slight nod, but eye or verbal contact is not always necessary. Amanda demonstrated how, when she is talking with people she does not know, she will stand slightly side-on and avoid a straight front-on posture which can be vulnerable but also may be perceived as threatening.
“What about personal alarms?” These are useful, their main benefit being that they seriously distract and ruffle any attacker.
Finally, someone asked, “What if someone else is at risk – should we intervene?” Amanda indicated that it was a personal decision but that, always, we should assess the situation and summon assistance first. As she said: “It only takes seconds to dial 999 and that call can be traced and pinpointed even if you are unable to complete it”.
Iain Archibald gave an instance from his own life of naïve late night city-centre working; and also a recent instance of a young man in the business community being mugged walking home very late after a company “do”. In his own case, Iain recognised that he should have been more risk-aware; in the case of the young man he should probably have taken a taxi home.
Iain thanked Amanda for her valuable insight into keeping us confident and for giving us the ways and means to help ourselves be safer as we go about our business.
As we dispersed there was a buzz of discussion and I overheard conversations on the benefits of personal attack alarms and questions such as, “Does your company have a lone-worker policy for people working into the evening?” The talk had indeed given us much to think about and raised our awareness – a successful outcome for Amanda in the work she does.
One lady present has since emailed this: “I really appreciated today.”
Consultant to business matters