Always Be Aware of Your Surroundings!

The San Mateo Police Department Master Officer Program identifies an elite group of officers within our department who have earned the title “Master Officer” based not only on their yearly performance evaluations, but also on their years of experience and various expertise.  SMPD is lucky to recognize our largest number of Master Officers ever in 2016, each of whom will be submitting a personal article on a topic of their choice, allowing our community the rare chance of getting to know the people behind the SMPD badge…

by SMPD Master Officer Adam Smith

It’s no secret that these days there are many distractions in life. Technology can make our lives easier in some ways, but one of the biggest distractions that we have in life is the smartphone. Let’s face it, the cell phones these days play music, video, take pictures, give us access to the internet, and of course it’s important to update social media! These little devices hold great power and all the cool kids are using them! While out on patrol I can’t count the amount of people I see walking along with their face buried in a cell phone not paying attention to anyone or anything going on around them. I may be going out on a limb here, but I would be willing to say that on any given day most people are not aware of their surroundings. I have seen countless people walking the beautiful streets of San Mateo, not looking at where they are going. The worst is when people don’t even stop looking at their phone before crossing the street. Let me just say that the painted crosswalk will not stop someone from getting hit by a car. Please don’t assume that all drivers will see you in the street, or even yield to your right of way!   Your safety is THE 1st concern for your San Mateo Police officers.

Whether you are distracted by a cell phone, running late, or just having one of those days, being aware of your surroundings is important! We all have that little voice that goes off in our heads when we sense something is not right or danger is close by. Obviously as police officers, we receive countless hours of training in how to be aware of what is going on around us. Life and past experiences also go towards how someone may perceive something around them that isn’t right. When confronted with danger, humans and animals alike respond with “Fight, Flight, or Freeze”.  What that basically means is that in a dangerous situation your response may be to try and physically fight to defend yourself, run to get away from a threat, or freeze up and do nothing while letting the attack happen. To top it off, when you are unaware of your surroundings, you have less time to react to danger as it is.

What I would like to do is give you a few tips to possibly help you sense danger a little quicker and give yourself a chance to avoid a bad situation all together. First off let’s put the cell phones away when you are actively walking in public. If you must use your phone and walk, then be sure to look up every few seconds (I would strongly suggest not using your phone at all when crossing the street…look both ways and cross quickly!). Second walk with a purpose. Criminals are predators and they look for targets that look weak, afraid, or just plain distracted. One tip that I personally use is when I must walk by someone putting out the “predator” vibe is that I look them in the eye and say hello as I pass, and I continue walking. This does two things. If that person was planning an attack it interrupts their train of thought, and it lets them know that I see them too. Keep in mind, I don’t walk around seeking out dangerous looking people to say hello to…really, I don’t. I only use this if I find myself in a situation that I could not have otherwise avoided the possible “dangerous” person. What I am touching on here is what a police officer may call “command presence”. Just like we all have some ability to sense danger, referred by many a cop as your “spidey senses”, predators also have a sense of when their chosen target may just give them a little bit more of a fight than they want to deal with. Just like in the animal kingdom, if your prey bites back most predators will find something else for dinner!

Here are some basic bullet point tips:

  • Avoid being distracted in public
  • Walk with purpose
  • Avoid secluded poorly lit areas
  • Follow your instincts. If it doesn’t look right to you, then it probably isn’t
  • Take a mental note of people in your area that appear to have no agenda. Are they standing around watching the area? This doesn’t necessarily mean they are up to no good, but ask yourself is this “normal” behavior for the environment that you are in.
  • Don’t put down your personal items and turn your back. People do this all of the time and in a busy area this is a good way to get your things stolen.
  • Don’t flash your money in public when paying for things. No one needs to know how much cash you are walking around with!
  • Be aware of parking lots. Try and avoid spending too much time alone in a parking lot. Thieves will watch from a distance as you lock your property up in your car. Then they know which car to break into. I see this all of the time, especially in gym parking lots. If I can see you put your purse, briefcase, or laptop in your trunk, just think who else can??
  • If you can’t avoid storing valuables in your car while you are away from your vehicle, store those items first before driving to your destination this way anyone watching in the lot does not know what is in your car. On that note if you have multiple items of value, don’t store them all in one place in the vehicle. Put one in the trunk, one under the seat, glove box, ..etc. If you become the unfortunate victim of an automobile burglary, hopefully the thief doesn’t think to check all of these areas. Most automobile burglaries happen very quickly and this may just help you keep some of those valuables!
  • When getting in your car, look around as you are walking towards your vehicle. Get in and go. If you have to stay in your vehicle for a few, lock the doors! Most modern cars have automatic locks. However, they don’t engage until you actually start driving.
  • Always know your location!!
  • DIAL 911!! That’s what we are here for. If you see something, say something! When you DIAL 911 try and remain calm and give the Dispatcher clear and concise information.

What I have been speaking about goes to situational awareness and the safety of your person. Property can be replaced. Even if it is expensive property it can still be replaced and it’s not worth getting hurt over. Part of being situationally aware is to know your personal capabilities and to know when to walk the other way. Always try to avoid a physical confrontation but if you have to fight to defend yourself to stop someone from hurting you or someone else then give it all you have. I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this. If you did take the time to read this pass it on to a friend! It is my pleasure and an honor to serve as one of your police officers. Be safe and as always the officers in this department are just a phone call away.


Officer Adam Smith is a 12-year veteran of the San Mateo Police Department. He is an avid martial artist and a self proclaimed “fitness nut.”  When he’s not on on duty, he’s likely watching the San Francisco Giants or counting down the days until they play again.


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