Even a rudimentary analysis of violence clearly displays an overwhelming trend: most violence that takes place in public happens in transitional spaces. There is violence in the home and in the workplace, both of which account for a great deal of overall assault and criminal activity each year, but outside of these specific locations, the most likely place for dangerous confrontation and criminal predation is within transitional spaces.
What is a transitional space?
A transitional space is, as the name implies, a space that a person occupies when transitioning from one location to another. The parking lot of Walmart is a transitional space because you are moving from your vehicle to the store through said parking lot. The parking garage at your work is a transitional space. The parking lot in any location is a transitional space and parking lots alone account for a huge percentage of crime each year. The subway terminal is a transitional space, as is your own driveway.
Transitional spaces are the most frequented locations by criminals looking for crimes of opportunity because they are locations where unsuspecting people can be intercepted and prayed upon. Within the defensive community, we speak a great deal about situational awareness although the ideal of always being switched on is not realistic for most. However, the environment that demands the most awareness is the transitional space, and having your head on a swivel in this space is a must for your own security.
Recognizance Before Entering a Transitional Space
One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself and those with you is to evaluate the transitional space that you are about to enter to the best of your ability before actually entering it. The simplest example to start with is a parking lot. Typically, this transitional space involves you exiting your vehicle into it to transition to the location of your destination. Before stopping your car, before parking, and certainly before turning your vehicle off and exiting it, be sure to survey your surroundings. Criminals don’t transport through different dimensions; they don’t just appear in front of you. They come from somewhere. Most of the time you will see them before they are in contact if you look for it.
While parking lots account for a great deal of criminal activity they are fairly easy transitional spaces to scout out before entering them. When pulling into a parking lot, look around, who is there and what are they doing? Are there suspicious-looking characters standing around, not doing anything? Is anyone paying you too much attention? Upon parking keep the engine running for a moment and re-scan the scene; did someone start moving toward your location? It is a matter of being alert and aware of what surrounds you. If something does not seem right, simply drive away and do your shopping at a safer place.
Gas station parking lots are particularly hazardous when it comes to criminal activity. Before stopping the vehicle, drive around the lot and see who is there. Are there suspicious-looking characters leaning against the wall, hanging out in a vehicle at the periphery of the lot, or hovering in the darkness past the lights? If so, get gas somewhere else. When parked and pumping gas, don’t stare at your phone, but have your head on a swivel and monitor who is coming and going. Seeing it early allows you to take any action necessary.
While parking lots are easy to deal with in this regard, other transitional spaces are more difficult to read before entering, but we can usually accomplish some form of early surveillance. When leaving a building out onto the sidewalk, take a look up and down the street and scan the environment before just strutting out into the world. When entering the mall or other retail location, scan the environment as soon as you walk through the door. Reconnaissance of a transitional space before entering it is of the utmost value.
Managing Unknown Contacts
The overall concept has been around for a long time, but well-known firearms and self-defense instructor Craig Douglas synthesized a paradigm known as MUC (Managing Unknown Contacts) that has become the standard mode of handling the approach of potentially dangerous individuals in public. MUC is taught by many self-defense experts these days, but Douglas put it together in the form that it is known today. I highly recommend this training as it is some of the most valuable skills you will ever learn as it pertains to self-defense. The ability to manage unknown contacts is of particular importance when in transitional spaces.
A common criminal assault tactic is to close distance with the intended victim through a ruse, a fake act of innocent behavior. You have likely encountered this, especially in large urban areas: “Hey man, you got a dollar?” Or, “hey man, you know what time it is?” Often, such behavior is only that of a street person trying to bum something off of you, but do not let your guard down. Sometimes such behavior is a ploy to distract you so that the unknown contact can get within striking distance, or to distract you so that you do not see the partner who sneaks up behind you. Knowing how to manage such contact is essential, seek out this training.
Such encounters with unknown contacts are predominately found in transitional spaces. Street people, or whatever we may want to call them, are typically not loitering in businesses as they are usually forced out. They are not likely hanging around in your office either. Rather, they rely on the transitional space to provide the opportunity to intercept other people. Most such vagrants will hit you up for money, but there is a dangerous criminal element that will use similar tactics to close the distance. You must be ready to deal with unknown contacts when in transitional spaces.
Move Quickly and With Purpose
The less time spent in a transitional space, the better. When crossing a parking lot, a parking garage, or other such transient space, do so quickly. Obviously, there is no need to run in a panic, but don’t waste time in any such area that looks suspect. Move with a purpose to the entrance of the space you intend to occupy, be it a retail location, your office, your vehicle, or your home. Moving quickly can often give you the ability to blow past someone who may be trouble. Moving quickly from the beginning shows that you are perhaps in a rush. If an unknown contact tries the “hey man, got a…” routine, a strategy of moving quickly can often be beneficial as a reply of, “Sorry, can’t stop” comes off as sincere. If, however, you are leisurely strolling along, then at the first sight of the unknown contact you speed off, that is an obvious bluff, and criminals, believe it or not, do not like to be insulted.
Always Have Tools
Your defensive tools are more important in transitional spaces than almost anywhere else. If you carry a defensive handgun, that is ideal, but in environments where you can’t be armed with a firearm be armed with something. Do you work in an environment where you can’t carry a gun? If possible, have OC Spray, or an impact weapon, available for when you leave the office to go to your car. Even if you can and do carry a firearm during your regular workday, having OC spray is especially advantageous in transitional spaces as it gives you the ability to, essentially, eye jab an unarmed, yet aggressive contact as they close in if warranted. Pepper spray can be carried in your hand as you walk to your destination or vehicle and it does not raise alarms. This is not a bad habit to adopt when crossing transitional spaces.
Consider this advice in your daily life. Most of us move through transitional spaces multiple times a day and these locations expose us to a heightened vulnerability. Seek out the training, keep your head on a swivel, and have tools.
Situational Awareness at all times! It’s not being paranoid it’s using common sense!
The entire Earth is a transitional space. It’s a silly term. Just practice Jeff Cooper’s Color Code and make awareness part of your personality.
I think trainers sometimes suggest things with unknown people that are too confrontational; putting up your hands and loudly saying “STOP” may work, or it may start a fight unnecessarily. What’s always worked for me is to smile, say “no thanks” or “excuse me” and keep on walking. At the same pace. If the person won’t let you walk around them, or otherwise blocks your movement, now they’ve escalated the situation and you can act accordingly, but in my experience they usually give up and go to the next mark.