Awareness, de-escalation and avoidance are priorities at Pine River class
The latest Old Age is not for Sissies series starts with a class on safety in contentious situations.
PINE RIVER — Senior citizens learned how to better protect themselves with help from Pine River Police Officer Andy Rooney. Rooney gave a presentation titled "Situational Awareness and Self-Defense for Seniors" Wednesday, March 15 at Pine River United Methodist Church's Old Age is Not for Sissies Series.
Rooney clarified that he was not going to spar with participants and that instruction would be primarily aimed toward prevention.
"The reason why I decided to offer more of a situational awareness instead of a self-defense is because a lot of the time when you're getting into a confrontation, you're not immediately going to be going hands-on," Rooney said.
"If somebody gets into an argument with you or approaches you in the grocery store and starts causing issues, you're not going to immediately go to using force. You'll get in trouble if you start throwing punches in that case,” he said.
“Situational awareness is basically just breaking down what's going on around you. And I'm hoping that when you guys are done with this class, you'll be able to take better note of what's going on around you, be more observant to it and be ready to react in case something happens where you do have to use self-defense," Rooney said.
Rooney's instruction began with four simple points:
- Get off your phone.
- Have an exit strategy.
- Observe behavior of others.
- Avoid potential troublemakers.
Rooney approached the discussion with the understanding that many negative public interactions can be avoided using these tips. Using the situational awareness skills above, seniors may be able to identify an aggressive or agitated person and have a plan to avoid them so no confrontation ever happens.
"If they're just having a terrible day, and they just have all this anger built up inside of them and they're looking to release it somehow, you don't want to be a victim of something like that," Rooney said.
One of the good things you can do to just prepare yourself for these kinds of situations is by just running them through your head,
Rooney said while a person sometimes automatically sets off warning bells inside your head or gives you a bad feeling, there are some signs of aggression a person can consciously look for.
An aggressive person may be clenching their fists, angrily staring, carrying something that can be used as a weapon, speaking loudly using offensive language or behaving erratically.
When a person notices such characteristics, and before engaging, that's when having an exit strategy comes in handy.
In a grocery store, for example, Rooney suggested going to another aisle and waiting for the other person to move along.
In extreme situations, once out of harm's way it might be best for that person to seek an officer or someone in charge to bring the potential troublemaker to their attention.
If the witness does become a target of the troublemaker's attention, it may be possible to diffuse the situation long enough to get away without physical confrontation.
If confronted, Rooney said the first steps are to remain calm, avoid looking aggressive by not making fists or taking defensive stances, explain an unwillingness to fight or again, leave the area when the opportunity presents itself.
We can help them out a lot better than you'd be able to help them out. And just when it comes to a safety standpoint, you don't want this unknown individual in your house.
Rooney applied many of his tips to road rage incidents as well. He said in the case of encountering someone aggressive on the road it is still best to first be aware of surroundings and exits. Then avoid acting aggressively in return, and finally, find a way to retreat from the situation if necessary.
His own tactic is to slow down when being followed by an aggressive driver, give the driver the chance to pass, and show that he is not attempting to be aggressive with them.
In some cases, the potential troublemakers may not simply be aggressive and agitated, but actively looking to do wrong. Rooney identified higher risk situations.
- Nighttime shopping.
- An unknown person at your door.
- A vehicle in the ditch.
- An unruly customer.
Nighttime shoppers, especially those shopping alone, may be bigger targets for people looking to steal or harm others.
Police have long warned against allowing strangers who knock on your door into your house, as whatever reason they give may be a trick.
As for vehicles in the ditch, sometimes someone looking to avoid legal issues from being caught driving under the influence might violently try to avoid getting caught.
In these cases, Rooney suggested being aware of surroundings, finding a safe place away from the potential threat and then contacting someone for help, even in the case of someone claiming to need help.
"We can help them out a lot better than you'd be able to help them out," Rooney said. "And just when it comes to a safety standpoint, you don't want this unknown individual in your house."
In a public place, when all else fails, Rooney suggested causing a scene by making noise, knocking things off a shelf, yelling for help, using a whistle to save your voice or simply dialing 911.
If de-escalation, avoidance or calling for help fails, Rooney instructed people on how, as a last option, to throw a punch.
Rooney first warned people not to put their thumb into their fist, or else they will break it. Next, they need to swing with a stiff arm, not a limp wrist.
He also said if necessary they may find that using a cane, pepper spray or throwing items around them might be a better option than taking a swing. He said to aim for the nose, groin or eyes, all of which can be disorienting.
Rooney suggested preparing in several ways, including by installing security systems at home, or something as simple as a doorbell with a camera or owning a dog.
First and foremost, he reminded attendees to keep their homes and vehicles locked at all times.
For ultimate preparedness, Rooney even suggested attendees imagine scenarios ahead of time so that they may have a plan for almost any situation.
"One of the good things you can do to just prepare yourself for these kinds of situations is by just running them through your head," Rooney said.
He also suggested looking up Minnesota laws in regard to what plan seems most functional. Rooney warned attendees that he is not an attorney and should not be cited as such, but gave them a very rough rundown of Minnesota self-defense laws.
Rooney said Minnesota is a "Duty to Retreat" state, meaning that Minnesota residents are expected to attempt to retreat or avoid violent confrontation as a first priority.
If somebody's being confrontational or causing issues with you, do what you have to do to be safe, and then from there, defend yourself.
If ever retreating or avoiding ceases to be an option and bodily harm is at risk, at that time a physical defense may be permissible if the victim uses "reasonable" force to respond.
In public this could mean running away from someone who may be threatening you. At home it could mean retreating to a room with a lockable door or leaving your home entirely to call police from a safe outside location.
Rooney also warned that self-defense is restricted to use only until the aggressor ceases to be a threat.
For example, if you strike someone who attempted to attack you and they back down, you could possibly be charged if you continue to attack them. Continuing to attack someone who is retreating or who has fallen could make the victim into the aggressor.
"The way Minnesota works is that you have to, kind of the same as out in public, if somebody's being confrontational or causing issues with you, do what you have to do to be safe, and then from there, defend yourself." Rooney said.
Rooney's advice very much stressed the importance of being aware of your surroundings and avoiding confrontation whenever possible, in which case the hope is that self-defense never becomes necessary.
Pine River United Methodist Church's Old Age is not for Sissies 3.0 will also hold 2 other classes.
Motivational speaker Dan Hegstad will present from 1-3 p.m. Wednesday, April 12. His topic is "Aging with Attitude and an Intro to Tai Chi."
Master Gardener Mary Keppers will present from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, on "Jumping Worms in Your Garden? and More Questions."
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.