The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

Dell Publishing, New York, New York, 1997 Through street experience, police officers develop a sixth sense about danger. They learn to rely on and use the signals that victims often deny or discount. Sometimes, though, the lessons come at too great a price.

The Gift of Fear can help officers become more attuned to those natural danger detection systems, thus enabling them to respond to risky situations more quickly and safely. While the book does not focus on police-oriented scenarios, officers can readily apply its advice not only to help them understand their own reactions to various situations but also to help victims provide clues to the identity or actions of their attackers. Moreover, because of the heightened risks faced by their families, law enforcement officers may well want to take a copy of this book home to their loved ones. An expert on predicting violent behavior, de Becker makes a simple claim: We all possess an internal guardian that recognizes the presence of danger, warns us of risks, and, if we listen to it, guides us through risky situations. De Becker demystifies that “gut feeling” and shows the reader how to detect and interpret the signals accurately. In the chapter “Survival Signals,” the author describes several methods that capable criminals use to deceive their victims. For example, criminals might use forced pairing (an inappropriate “we’re in this together” attitude) or provide unsolicited assistance to make a victim feel indebted to him. The author also explores 13 messengers of intuition—such signals as nagging feelings, dark humor, hunches, doubt, hesitation, suspicion, apprehension, and outright fear—that can predict imminent danger. Throughout the book, he uses true stories to illustrate how the messengers of intuition alerted crime victims to the presence of danger. For example, a group of employees heard firecracker-like sounds outside, and someone joked that it might be an angry coworker coming to shoot them; it was. A woman felt strong apprehension about an overly friendly stranger in the stairwell of her apartment building; he raped her. A convenience store patron felt sudden, overwhelming fear and left the building; a gunman in the store later shot and killed a police officer. Most of the examples in the chapter on survival signals address threats posed by strangers, but strangers only account for a small percentage of the violent crime in the United States. Subsequent chapters address dangers posed by acquaintances or intimate relations. De Becker discusses death threats, obsessions, workplace violence, stalking, mental illness, child and spousal abuse, multiple shootings, and children who kill. The Gift of Fear focuses on making accurate predictions about potential threats. It does not prescribe actions to take when a threat becomes a reality; an officer’s training would come into play then. For law enforcement officers—rookies and veterans alike—this book offers another set of tools for assessing potentially violent encounters. For their families, it offers the ability to distinguish between warranted and unwarranted fear, which can bring them newfound freedom from groundless worry. Reviewed by Julie R. Linkins Instructor, Law Enforcement Communication Unit FBI Academy and published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin June 2002

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