Security Briefing

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Jennifer Rose wishes she’d been more wary when a client showed up at her house one summer evening in 1981. She stepped outside to speak to him, holding on to the door handle so she could duck back in quickly if need be.

But when she told the client she was finished talking to him and turned to go back in, he was instantly behind her, shoving her through the doorway and following her in.

Then began what Rose calls a “dance of death,” as the client chased Rose around her living room. Her disbelieving mind was full of thoughts like, “I hope he doesn’t get blood on my white carpet,” and, “Stay away from the stone fireplace because it would really hurt to have your head bashed into that.”

But she snapped back to reality when the client caught her and held her to the floor with one hand around her neck and the other reaching under her skirt. She began trying to bargain.

“I said, ‘Look, you can leave now and this will be our secret. No police. I’ll never tell anyone and you’ll walk. It’s your decision.’ I kept repeating that like a mantra,” she says. Remarkably, the client, a former juvenile offender Rose had kept out of jail for a series of similar assaults, took her at her word. He suddenly released her and left.

“I got up, locked the door and called the police,” says Rose, who lived in a small Iowa town at the time. The client was arrested and charged with kidnapping and sex abuse, but served only one year in jail. He went on to rape two other women while on probation, according to Rose.

Rose has since moved to Mexico, and no longer practices law. But because of the incident, she keeps at least one of her large dogs with her at all times.

Rose lived in a small town, where it was difficult if not impossible to keep her home address secret. But lawyer and security expert David Z. Kaufman of Fairfax, Va., says keeping your personal information private is just one way to decrease the odds of an encounter like Rose’s.

He advises lawyers who work from home not to tell clients that they do. Instead, Kaufman suggests meeting at a neutral place, such as a library or a borrowed conference room. Use a mail drop or executive suite as your mailing address and remove your home address from as many places as possible.

Better yet, he says, create a corporation and have your bills sent under the corporate name to your mail drop.

When you’re on the street, Kaufman says, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking too close to the curb or to the buildings so you can’t be boxed in. Use different routes going to and from work and other regular activities. And park in different places, but always where there are people around.

“If you’re in the car and think you’re being followed, you’re likely being followed,” Kaufman says. “Loop the block and see what the other vehicle does. If you feel you’re in danger, head for the nearest police station and do not leave your car until you get there. Call ahead and ask for an officer to meet you in the parking lot.”

Kaufman says one of the most important aspects of family security is establishing code words with your spouse and children. For the kids, the code will let them know whether they can trust someone who claims to have been sent by the parents. If the individual does not know the code word, the child should be taught to run away and seek help from a trusted adult.

With spouses and other adults, the code can be used to let someone know you’re in trouble. Some lawyers use this sort of system in their offices as well. For example, if the receptionist calls the lawyer’s office from the front of the suite and says something like, “There’s someone very important here to see you,” the lawyer will immediately know that the receptionist is in danger.

Kaufman says that if you receive a threat, take it seriously.

“I’m a firm believer in a disproportionate response. If you tell them you will call the police if they don’t stop doing X, they still have the power. Once you actually call the police, you have taken control of the situation,” Kaufman says.

What about buying a gun? Kaufman notes that while many people who feel threatened consider doing so, anyone who displays a weapon must be prepared to use it. For that reason, guns are not for everyone, he says.

“A gun is not a magic wand. You can’t just wave it around and expect results. At the same time, never shoot at anything you’re not willing to kill and never shoot at anything you cannot see clearly,” Kaufman says.

If you or your client has a restraining order against an opposing party, Kaufman recommends notifying the court before each hearing at which the party will be present so that extra officers can be assigned to that courtroom.

Nelson Slinkman Jr., the owner of Westminster Security Co. Inc. in Westminster, Md., has provided security systems for dozens of judges and lawyers on the Atlantic Coast. He says a good home security system can be surprisingly affordable, but it must be properly installed.

He recommends “contact points” on window screens, instead of windows, for example, so that the window can be opened to catch the breeze but the home is still protected. He also suggests installing a two-way radio signal on home security systems that use the home’s phone lines to trigger the alarm. The radio box will set off the alarm if the phone lines are cut, he says.

Slinkman also recommends a push-button panic signal in vehicles, which should also include Global Positioning System technology so the signal can be traced. He says key chain-sized panic buttons are also available that can be carried in a pocket or worn on a chain. Monitoring of such systems can run as little as $10 a month, he says.

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