One of the principal admonishments of this column is to always think someone out there wants to kill you. Having such a mindset will keep you on your toes and hopefully allow you to get the full value out of your lifetime subscriptions.

However, what if somebody really does want to kill you, or at least claims they do?

I don’t mean literal combat against an opponent who is intent on turning you into a worm buffet. Rather, I’m talking about those circumstances where someone has resolutely stated that they intend great bodily harm to you at some later time of their choosing. In other words, we are going to discuss death threats.

If you’ve been a cop for more than 15 minutes, you’ve experienced this problem. Human resource managers and other business folks tasked with breaking unhappy news to people also commonly encounter these situations. In fact, unless you live alone in a high mountain hut, virtually everyone is a possible candidate for the occasional bout of verbal intimidation.

First and foremost is the caveat that, if someone is truly intent and focused on killing you, there is a good chance they will succeed unless you go into hiding. To borrow a well-known axiom from counterterrorist organizations, “We have to be perfect every day. They just have to get lucky once.”

Before we get too wrapped around the axle on this whole topic, remember that in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases, threats are simply hot air. As a veteran police officer, my family and I have been threatened probably three dozen times over the years.

So far, nothing worse than a poor night’s sleep has occurred. That doesn’t mean the next one won’t be legitimate, but hopefully you can rest easier knowing the odds.

People making the threats are usually just trying to control you via fear. Though causing extensive orthodontic problems for your antagonist is profoundly satisfying (or so I’ve heard), the best course of action is to literally ignore such threats, at least outwardly.

Ignoring your adversary often stops the whole process, because shouting threats at someone quickly becomes tiresome if the victim simply looks away and starts humming light opera. If you won’t play their game, the perpetrator frequently will look elsewhere for a verbal sparring partner.

Though hopefully we appear undisturbed and indeed nonplussed by the onslaught, there are still some precautions to take whenever someone claims to be planning your final downfall. Forget the Hollywood stuff about stalkers. In the real world, people who get ambushed are most often shot at close range or blown up, with the occasional arson thrown in for variety. Any of these possibilities is relatively easy to comprehend and take preventive actions against.

When threatened, you must ramp up the situational awareness lever to Full-Afterburner mode. Though a carefully laid trap can be difficult to detect beforehand, most folks aren’t skilled or patient enough to devise a foolproof method for harming you. If you stay alert to little things like wires protruding from your gas tank or a strange vehicle sitting at the end of your driveway, you’re miles ahead of most folks in the survival derby.

Consider how you would carry out an attack on yourself and then devise a defensive response plan for the most likely scenarios. For instance, imagine that when getting the mail, you see a car slowly driving past with something sticking out the window. Develop at least rudimentary strategies for dealing with things like an unexpected package delivered to work or the front of your home suddenly bursting into flames in the middle of the night.

Whenever on heightened personal security alert, it’s important to break up your normal routines in order to make it difficult for someone to pattern your movements. Start by analyzing the places you go every day. For example, if I planned to “whack” someone, I’d conduct surveillance and determine when he leaves or arrives home every day. Trust that I’m not the first bad guy to have such an insight.

So instead of leaving for work every day at the same time via the front door of your home, vary both the time and egress point for a week or two. Your goal is simply to avoid obvious patterns without completely disrupting your daily life.

Report any “credible” threat to law enforcement, if nothing else for documentation purposes should you become involved in a deadly force encounter.

If appropriate, report such threats to your employer. Company security personnel will want to be involved and, in serious cases, might even hire off-duty police officers to stand by for a couple of days. No manner of protection is perfect, but the more people on your team, the better.

If you see your nemesis lurking somewhere, don’t confront him or her. Even if you plan to finish the fight once and for all, his plan might be to just shoot you on sight. A bomb might even be part of the festivities. There is obviously no tactical advantage to be gained by approaching someone who has already threatened your life. Call the cops and let them do it.

Death threats are annoying in the extreme, but try not to let them ruin your life. As we’ve discussed, most are simply hollow words meant to upset, annoy and harass you. Don’t fall for the tactic.

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