Sunday, January 11, 2009

Criminal Behaviour: Threats

Firkin Upper StreetYears ago I worked in a pub in London, England. It was located on Upper Street in Islington, a neighbourhood that was moving upscale but, like most of the city, still had its share of decent lower class residents and a heaping of scum. There were plenty of pubs along the stretch where I worked.

Because it was on the high street, numerous people blundered in simply to use the toilets. Some felt the need to order a quick half a pint, take a sip, duck into the toilets, and then return to slug back their drink and be on their way. Leaving us to wonder if they were trapped in a hell of forever nipping in to subsequent establishments to buy the obligatory token drink, draining their bladders and continuing on.

Others had no reservations about striding in to use the loo and then leaving without a word of acknowledgment. This was annoying because the task of cleaning toilets was down to the bar staff. Also, more than a few heroin users shot up in the bogs and left their used needles on the floor.

So we banged up a sign stating that only patrons could use the toilets. This worked for the most part.

One afternoon a group of regulars was knocking back pints in the pub. A rare graveyard shift with some activity and a buzz happening. I was in one of those moods that allowed me to play the raconteur. Pulling pints and engaging in some give and take with the posties who drank during any available free time they had.

A well dressed man walked in and made straight for the toilets. A few moments later he exited and was leaving the pub. I loudly said, "Thanks! Come again!"

He surged towards the bar and castigated me for daring to draw attention to him, assuring me he had spent plenty of money here in the past.

Still playing to the crowd of drinkers watching this little spectacle, I further mocked him to the sniggers and cheers of my audience. He stormed out and I continued to milk the incident for all it was worth.

phone handsetLater on that day, after the afternoon drinkers had cleared out and the early evening vibe was taking shape, the telephone behind the bar rang.


"I'm gonna pay someone to do you in!"


I banged the phone down.

It was obviously the agitated toilet user I had called out earlier in the afternoon. His lame threat sounded so contrived it was almost laughable. His epithet for black people was a word not usually used in Britain, even by racists. It's as if he recognized that I wasn't a Brit and came up with some lame concoction he thought would rattle me based on stereotypes from Hollywood movies.

Still, it did give me pause. Over the next few days I probably scanned the crowd a few more times and with closer scrutiny than usual.


And that is the most obvious reason why people make threats. To a large degree, they work. Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous or has never been on the receiving end.

Relative to the amount of effort required, a threat is one of the most effective fear-inducing tactics in the miscreant's trick bag. And, the likelihood of being caught is low. Even if a verbal threat is not made anonymously, police are unlikely to act unless the person making the threat is known to them, or there is some kind of audio or video recording.

Correlation to Action

It would be hard to quantify the number of threats made to the times actions actually are carried out. It's safe to say that most people who make threats never go any further simply because those who are serious about committing a crime usually don't want to be caught.

That's cold comfort for victims of stalkers, who seem to have fully embraced their obsessive lunacy and often preclude violent attacks with nasty threats.

Terrorists as well trade in the business of spreading mind-numbing fear before following through with some cold blooded human destruction.

In this age of hysteria, threats are probably taken more seriously by more people than at any time in history.


Most men who are threatened try to appear dismissive while a sliver of apprehension crawls up their spine. When a threat is made by someone with a violent reputation, the reaction can be more visceral and the attempts to hide fear pointless.

Unfortunately, women no doubt suffer more than men when they are threatened. On the other hand, they may receive more attention and their claims may be given more credibility when they file a complaint with police.

There is no fail-safe way to respond. Bravado may spur some on to carry out their threats while others may be emboldened by a frightened response.

Use your own instincts and your knowledge of the creep in question to take appropriate action. There's a fine line between over-reaction and self-preservation.

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