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Posted on October 14, 2019 by in Training




“Sorry, I can’t help you.”

Most crimes such as robbery take place in transitional areas where it is not uncommon to be around strangers and criminals can make a rapid escape immediately after committing a crime. Transitional areas are typically areas such as parking lots, parking garages, sidewalks, or any place persons travel through to get to one location from another.

I believe that criminal offenders use a See-Choose-Close-Attack methodology of committing violent crimes such as a robbery, sexual assault, and sometimes even such senseless crimes as attempting to sucker punch a perfect stranger while being recorded on video. I described methods that a concealed carrier can use in order to avoid the See-Choose phases in an earlier article entitled “Flunking the Victim Selection Test”. This particular article will focus solely on the Close phase of an attack.

Most robberies and criminal assaults take place at close range. Unless the criminal offender was able to ambush the intended victim by closing without being seen, he or she has to close the distance without being viewed as threatening. Many will use ruse to do so, typically in the form of a question.  One of my favorite instructors and outstanding sources of defensive knowledge, Greg Ellifritz, addressed three questions a street-smart criminal may use in a recent article he posted on Facebook:

  1. Do you have the time?
  2. Can you give me directions to _____?
  3. Do you have a cigarette (or a lighter)?

If asked for the time, the intended victim will typically stop and then direct their attention to either their watch or cell phone. Doing so takes their eyes off the criminal who will typically use that momentary opportunity to launch their attack. A student of ours was successfully robbed at gunpoint years ago in an upscale portion of Dallas by two males who asked directions and then sandwiched him on a sidewalk and jammed a small pistol in his abdomen. All of this happened in clear view of others who never suspected what was happening.

My wife and I lived in a loft in a far less upscale part of East Dallas for two years in an area where there was a lot of crime. My wife’s Kia Sorento was broken into seven times during that period. The reason we lived there was complicated and had a sound basis that is not important for purposes of this article.

During that time period I was repeatedly accosted by persons in transitional areas requesting money or the current time. This occurred multiple times, and I always used the same initial response of: “Sorry, I can’t help you” while continuing to walk away. The bad news was that it occasionally did not work to stop the person moving in on me. The good news was that it always set the table for my very next sentence, which was delivered using a sharper tone: “You need to stay back.” That worked every almost every time except once, and the one time it didn’t I was prepared for that, too.

I simply bellowed from my diaphragm: “Stay back!” while making sure that I was seeing everything I need to see and was ready to act using the appropriate level of force. It is important to note that at no time did I allow myself to be fixed into place, and if I thought I was starting to be cut off I would move on an arc (if possible) in order to confirm that there was no one approaching me from the rear. I believe that this method of dealing with an approaching stranger of questionable intent possesses the following positives:

  1. My first response is not made in a disrespectful or condescending manner. There are people out there with the mentality that honor is everything who are willing to injure or kill others and go to prison for it rather than be perceived as being “disrespected”.
  2. My second response lets them know that I will resist further encroachment on my boundaries in a manner that is firm but not typically perceived as being disrespectful or giving orders. If the other party ignores my response and continues to move in, in more or less the words of CCW Safe co-founder Mike Darter, he or she is helping to strip the situation of ambiguity. I now have a clearer picture of the other’s intent which I can use to my benefit.
  3. My third response suggests that I am willing to respond with force if necessary and have not succumbed to any fears that I may have. In addition, the volume of my voice has likely alerted others to what is happening, which means that there is a possibility that I may receive assistance and greater odds that the criminal offender may be arrested.

In all candor, my current approach to managing unknown approaching persons is based upon Craig Douglas’ program of Managing Unknown Contacts as refined by frequent need to use those same skills in actual confrontations.  Over time I have learned to become a little more flexible in certain situations when I came into persons in genuine need who harbored no criminal intentions. Having said that, I make every effort to manage distance and maintain as much situational awareness as possible in those instances in the event that I had misjudged the person and their intent and abilities. 

Truth be known, if I have a five-dollar bill on my person and am walking past a person who remains in a static position whose physical appearance suggests that they are legitimately homeless and in a bad place physically and/or mentally, I will give the person that money. At all times, I am the one managing the distance. A person closing on me in order to take charge of the distance between us is a different story.

This article was solely devoted to communicating with a potential criminal who may have been asking a question as a pretense to not appear threatening in order to get close enough to physically attack another, whether armed with a handgun, edged weapon, blunt instrument, or just bare hands and feet. Having a plan in place for dealing with an approaching unknown contact that can be readily defaulted to and the communication skills to successfully implement it is just one more way that concealed carriers can help make every day “just another day”.

Steve Moses

Steve is a long-time defensive weapons instructor based out of Texas who has trained hundreds of men and women of all ages for more than two decades on how to better prepare to defend themselves and their loved ones. Steve has completed over 80 private-sector and law enforcement-only defensive weapons and tactics classes, and has trained civilian and law-enforcement officers in six states. Moses is a reserve deputy, former member of a multi-precinct Special Response Team, competitive shooter, and martial artist. Steve has written numerous articles for SWAT Magazine and other publications. Steve is a licensed Texas Level 4 Personal Security Officer and Instructor who was Shift Lead on a mega-church security detail for seven years, and has provided close protection for several former foreign Heads of State. He is currently an instructor at Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Krav Maga in Tyler, Texas and Director of Training for Palisade Training Group (