Opportunism understood

I’ve noted before that the typical good guy who takes care of his family, goes to work every day, and generally interacts with other human beings without any intention to cause damage or harm doesn’t really “get” bad guys. In other words, his/her brain doesn’t really work the same way that a hardened street criminal’s brain works. To illustrate the magnitude of the difference, consider this: I attended a lecture by William Aprill some years back on criminal actors and one of the things that stuck in my mind the most was reporting that someone gave jailed violent criminals a survey asking them about motivations for their crimes. A sizeable chunk of them reported a feeling of accomplishment.

I’ll translate that into good-guy language for you: Think back to when you accomplished something worthwhile in your life like graduating from college, getting a big contract/project done at work, or winning an award for some difficult achievement. Remember how that felt? Great. That’s how bad guys feel when they cave somebody’s skull in with a shovel.

Labeling criminal actors as “predators” is not just rhetorical flourish…it’s a useful description of criminal motivation and behavior.

I think one of the most misunderstood aspects of the criminal mindset is the concept of opportunism. I find it’s difficult to get people who aren’t hardened criminals to really process what criminal opportunism actually is. It’s probably most easily understood by looking at the behavior of a predator like a grizzly bear. Grizzlies are omnivores, meaning they will eat just about anything. They spend the majority of their time roaming around their territory looking for the next meal. They have an excellent sense of smell that detects possibilities for a meal from improbable distances. They are perpetually on the hunt for something…anything…and when they see an opportunity for a meal they go for it. It doesn’t matter if that opportunity is a run of salmon, a young moose, crabs hiding in the mud, or something currently being consumed by a smaller and weaker bear. The grizzly is an opportunist, but that doesn’t mean the bear sits there and waits for food to fall in his lap.

Like the grizzly, human predators have a sense for opportunity. In the case of human predators it’s more of a highly developed set of observational skills that drives success. The human predator sees things that you, the law abiding guy, do not. They have to, really, to have any shot at success in criminal enterprise. Most people in a Wal-Mart are there to buy groceries or sundries and get the heck out of there. Bad guys in Wal-Mart might well be there to buy something mundane but if they see an opportunity they can shift gears instantly and follow up on it. The most horrific example of this I can think of is the murder of Jennifer, Micheala, and Haley Petit. Two relatively low level criminals saw Jennifer and 11 year old Michaela Petit in a store and in no time flat worked up a plan to follow them home and assault them.

I say “low level” because prior to this horrific crime the two vile bastards responsible had records for what we’d consider relatively minor crimes:

“Stealing change from a child’s piggy bank fits Hayes’ criminal history, up until the Cheshire home invasion. Since he was 16 years old, Hayes has been in and out of prison, serving 26 different stints in Connecticut jails on charges ranging from writing bad checks to petty larceny, records show. A former Winsted police officer who arrested a teenaged Hayes called him a “human vacuum cleaner” who would steal anything he could.”

The predatory mindset isn’t strictly limited to material gain. It’s possible the initial attraction to Mrs. Petit and her daughter was more of the “human vacuum cleaner” routine but once in control of their victims the opportunities for other sorts of criminal diversion were recognized and acted upon. Having beaten Mr. Petit half to death they found themselves in control of a woman and two girls…and they proceeded to tie them up and sexually assault them for the next several hours.

Apart from the indescribable moral revulsion this event inspired when I saw the news stories, (which still hasn’t subsided, frankly…it’s not wise to commit to print what I think should have been done to those bastards) the thing that stuck out most to me was the opportunism. These two vile bastards were in the store, saw Mrs. Petit and little Michaela, and upon seeing them bought a pellet gun, some rope, and other sundries at the same store (If I remember correctly) to carry out their plan. This wasn’t something they planned for months or even days. It’s something they came up with on the spot in a matter of seconds.

How does one go from a routine shopping trip to buying items that are intended to be used in robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, sexual assault, and finally capital murder? Because predators don’t have routine shopping trips. The predatory mindset is actively looking for a victim no matter the time, place, or circumstance. A bear may leave his den with the intention of mating or marking his territory, but if he spots the opportunity for a meal along the way he’ll take it. The criminal may be in Wal-Mart for a perfectly ordinary shopping trip, but when he sees the opportunity for robbery, rape, and murder he’ll take it.

When you understand the opportunism of criminals, you can begin working to make yourself look like a particularly bad prospect. The only animal a grizzly is really afraid of is a bigger grizzly. If you can do the human equivalent of being a bigger grizzly, or at least looking like you’ve got enough fangs and claws to make an assault very messy for a predator, odds are you’ll be left alone while he seeks out easier prey. The trick here is often speed: Bad guys make decisions fast and if you can make yourself look like a bad prospect quickly enough in the process the odds that you’ll be hurt shrink significantly. If your goal is self defense, you have to be as ready and willing to take sensible defensive actions as the bad guy is to assault you.

Bad guys are opportunists…ready to rock and roll at the drop of a hat. You need to be just as ready to meet them with appropriate force if you want to win.


  1. Its easy to become de-senthitized to the things in and around us everyday, and sometimes look the other way when we should be staring. The “it can’t happen to me” psych, because I’m not around where that type of incidents happen ; so the I’m safe gene cuts in. Your only fooling yourself

  2. First, have a gun at hand. Second, even if they have the drop in you, use that gun. As my mother says, there are worse things than dying.

  3. Sadly, these two scum suckers will be forever living on the taxpayers’ dollars. The “American Justice” system is the ultimate oxymoron.

  4. The two scumbags are on death row, so “forever living” is a bit shorter than normal for them. On the other hand, they do get appeals.

    1. If you follow the hyperlink associated with William Aprill’s name, you’ll hear the man himself discuss the topic of ruling yourself out of the bad guy’s victim selection process. Once you understand how criminals operate, it’s easier to make yourself look like an unappealing target in subtle and some not-so-subtle ways. Something as simple as paying attention to your surroundings rather than a cell phone can be sufficient to make a large percentage of opportunistic bad guys decide that somebody else is a better target. When a bad guy looks at you, you want him to see a problem, not an opportunity.

  5. What a tragic incident. Lots of good advice out there about staying safe.
    If unfortunately you are targeted, throw out the “rulebook of civilized society” and fight like hell.

  6. None of this is probably going to make me look good, but here goes:
    Most of my late Dad’s brothers spent/have spent most of their lives in prison. Mostly theft, some armed robbery, some more violent crimes. I grew up looking at cops as the enemy, people to avoid if possible, fight if not. I got in some minor trouble; actually, I got in some major trouble too, but somehow (God? I don’t discount His influence) I was found not guilty of the felonies with which I was charged; found guilty of most of the misdemeanors. Truth is (counting on statutes of limitations here) I was guilty of almost everything with which I was ever charged.
    Joined the USN at 23 via a waiver for DUI(s). Grew up, finally; got a honorable discharged, first in my family to ever do so (I was already the first man in the family to graduate HS). Used the GI Bill & became the first man in the family to earn a degree. Somewhere in there, I gained a sense of honor. Not that criminals don’t have one: they do, it’s just a warped one. I decided I wanted to be remembered as a good man, an honest man. Being recalled as “he’d kick your ass in a heartbeat” just seemed shallow (duh).
    I now have held a CCP for 12 years, an FFL for a couple. Apparently, the law sees me as a good guy. I try to be. I respect LEOs; I finally realized they’re both on my side & in my employ against some of the kind of folks I’m related to, & was working on becoming. That said, I still see opportunities. It can be a plus. I’d advised a couple of businesses I worked for about security risks they never even saw. I can see myself as others might, & avoid making myself look like an easy day’s pay.
    Sorry for the long post, but I thought it relevant.

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