NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Mugging weather - that is what we, in the Philadelphia Police Department, used to call it 30 years ago. It began around mid-November and lasted until after Christmas. During that period there is less daylight and more shoppers with plenty of money out on the street.

The bad guys know this time of year is a target-rich environment. There are more opportunities for thefts and robberies (a robbery is a theft using force or the threat of force), during this time of year, more than any other. People are not only loaded with cash to go holiday gift shopping, but stores are taking in more money. People are going to holiday parties and leaving late at night, oftenwhile driving in unfamiliar areas. Charities are taking in more money from street corner solicitations. People are running out buying Christmas trees and decorations.

So what is a person to do?

Even a ninth-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not immune to a mugging. The bad guys do this for a living. But not only do they have experience, they also know when and where they will strike. The element of surprise is enormous.

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The victims, on the other hand, are not expecting to be victims. They do not want to be. They do not want to think about it. They have their tasks, their everyday concerns of family, job and community. While shopping they are concentrated on what to get their kids, their spouses, their parents and Aunt Martha.

But while there is no absolute way to avoid being a mugging victim there are a few things to do to minimize one's chances of being a victim.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. This may sound nebulous, but it does make a difference. As long as you are conscious of who and what is nearby, you are less likely to fall into a trap. A person waiting for a bus on a street corner, outside of a store, may seem innocent enough. But it is also possible the person is waiting for his next victim. If you are taking a subway, remain near the cashier until the train arrives. Do not wait on the far-end of the platform. If you have to wait on the platform, stand with your back against the wall away from the tracks and near the stairway so you can run back upstairs if necessary.
  • Before going to your car, check around all sides, as if you were looking for body damage, and also underneath the car. We used to have a mugger in my district who would wait for people to unlock their cars and - when they began to enter - he would strike. It was then people are the most vulnerable. This is especially true if they are placing items in the trunk.
  • You have heard it before, always park in a well lit spot. But if you cannot park in an illuminated area, park where there are a lot of people nearby. A mugger is less likely to strike in a crowded area.
  • When you are in the car lock the doors and drive off. When you arrive home, once again, follow the rules of awareness.
  • Do not text or be engrossed in a cell phone conversation when walking alone at night. This is especially true in a shopping district. The muggers are shopping too. They are shopping for people with money who are not cognizant of their surroundings.
  • If you think you are being followed, try going into a store or other public place. Try to get a description of the person, and if you have a cell phone call the police. They may already be looking for someone with the same description.This happened to a friend of mine. He thought someone was following him. He stopped and looked into store window, as if he were doing some window shopping, hand on his off-duty piece. He looked at the guy's reflection in the window. The guy walked by him. He went to a phone booth and called the police. A guy with that description was wanted for a robbery about a mile away and about an hour or so earlier.
  • Do not engage in conversations with strangers. For example, do not stop to give anyone the time or give a light for a cigarette. It is better to be rude than to be a victim. If you must stop, try to stay beyond arm's length. Be conscious of where the person's hands are at all times. If you can, carry pepper spray with you and be prepared to use it. Practice using it before you go out. Since laws vary on the legality of pepper spray, check if it is legal.

Now this is not an exhaustive list. Certainly, even if one follows all of these tips there is no guarantee you will not be a victim. As stated earlier, even a martial arts expert, even armed with a gun, can be a victim. If someone has the drop on you, then that is all she wrote. But following these tips will make you a less inviting target. Short of walking around with a private security guard or shopping with a group of people, it is the best one can do.

--Written by Michael P. Tremoglie for MainStreet