Body Language is Everything When it Comes to Personal Safety
We recently spoke with Sarah Shendy, who not only served as a police officer for 14 years but also is the Director of the Ohio Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment. She helped us understand more about situational awareness—if you missed that interview, give it a read. She offers some great advice on ways to stay safer in our day-to-day lives.
Sarah also had valuable insight to share about body language. She said observing the behavior of others—and being mindful of the message you’re sending—are vital aspects of practicing situational awareness and staying safe.
What should you consider with your body language?
Many crimes of opportunity happen when people aren’t paying attention to the messages they're sending through their appearance and actions. “Remember, people can read your facial expressions and behavior,” said Shendy.
For example, let’s say you find yourself lost in an unfamiliar area. You keep walking back and forth, changing directions and looking at your phone with a confused look on your face. An observant criminal can pick up on that and see you as an easy target. Instead, stop and take a moment to get your bearings. Calmly figure out your next step, and walk forward with your shoulders back, eyes ahead, and no disruptions.
What should you look for in the actions of others?
“We can prevent bad things simply by watching people’s body language and being aware of our surroundings. You don't have to be in law enforcement to pay attention to human behavior,” said Shendy.
“I saw an example where a group of Muslim women was attacked in a restaurant, and it was caught on video. A man entered a restaurant, and I could immediately tell he was severely intoxicated. He was staggering, staring ahead and looking through the people sitting at the tables around the women. He was also balling up his fists—a clear indicator that he plans to hit someone. And that's exactly what he did,” said Shendy.
“From my perspective, no one paid this man any attention. Nobody looked in his direction until he was right up on the table. Everybody in the restaurant seemed unaware of him until he was assaulting one of the women.”
What are some clear signs to watch for?
“In law enforcement, we watch people’s body language because their action is quicker than our reaction. For us, it's a life and death issue,” said Shendy.
“Let’s say I’m observing a suspect and, rather than make eye contact with me, the person looks at my gun. That tells me they may try to go for my weapon. If you keep tapping your hip or pocket, that tells me the suspect may have a weapon. If someone has their fists balled up, they’re probably going to attack.”
The point here certainly isn’t to encourage people to walk around in a state of police-like vigilance. It’s more about paying attention, being aware of your surroundings, and understanding who is in your environment.
“When you're in public, you can often tell who's irritated, mad, or angry. In law enforcement, we call these pre-attack indicators,” said Shendy. That’s why it’s critical to be in tune with your environment. Know what’s happening around you because sometimes awareness can stop catastrophic things from happening.”
Sarah Shendy is the Director of the Ohio Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment and served for 14 years as a police officer at Copley Police Department. She was recently named a 40 Under 40 Award recipient for 2022 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
Explore this collection of articles focused on personal safety from the experts at Mace. We want everyone to be prepared and stay safe out there.