Q: I just started school and I’m a little concerned about my safety while on campus. What precautions can I take?

A: Starting a new semester of college is a busy and exciting time. Students are worried about how much work they will have for their classes, ordering the books and supplies they need and making a good impression on their professors and peers. There are so many things to deal with and worry about that sometimes one of the most essential aspects of campus life is neglected: personal safety.

When you are returning to school you will be preoccupied with many details and responsibilities, but be sure to take some time to consider your personal security. Start off by getting to know a new campus, or re-familiarizing yourself with a location you’ve been away from for a while. Map out the safest route to and from your classes, and pick a path that is clear and secure. This is especially important at night when a predator could be hiding behind tall trees or lurking in a dark, secluded area.

Criminals often look for hiding spots where they can be concealed by tall trees, bushes or other obstacles. It gives them a great advantage over potential victims because they can see you long before you see them. Sometimes the best self defense tip is to simply stay away from areas where danger could be hiding. Stick to routes that are well lit and highly trafficked because law breakers do not want to be noticed by other people. A potential assailant looks for victims who are alone in areas where no one else can see or hear them because an onlooker can contact campus security, call the police and identify the perpetrator later on.

While you are getting to know the campus, take some time to learn the locations of the security offices. If you ever are in danger, the campus security officers will be your fastest and best option for assistance. Many universities also have phones available that have a direct line to security personnel. Be sure to know where you can find help, just in case you ever need it.

Q: I’m going on vacation next month and would like some advice. What sort of precautions can I take while I’m out in public so I don’t become a crime victim?

A: Whether you live in a big city or are just visiting, it is vital to know how to remain safe on the city streets. People who come from smaller towns may be caught off guard by the amount of crime and violent activity that is present in large cities, but by being aware and taking a few precautions you can stay safe wherever you go.

The most important thing you can do when you are on city streets or anywhere else is to be aware of your surroundings. Understand that criminals look for easy opportunities to assault an unsuspecting victim. A typical target will be a person who is clearly from out of town and may be intimidated by big city life. Be careful where you go, and pay attention to everything and everyone around you.

That is especially important when parking your car and leaving it unattended for any length of time with luggage, cameras, laptop computers, etc. inside. It is best to take all your valuables out of your car whenever possible, but this is not always practical. When you know you’re going to leaving your car unattended with valuables inside, stow them in the trunk or cargo area prior to leaving for your destination, not when you arrive. Criminals will see you placing your belongings in the trunk as an opportunity to steal, because they know you will most likely not be back for some time.

A predator never wants to be seen before committing a crime, so if you walk intently with your head held high and survey everything, you will be a far less likely target. When you are out at night, try to stay in areas that are brightly lit. Darker streets and alleys offer the perfect cover for an assailant to hide and catch you by surprise. Walk with friends anytime you can, because criminals are far less likely to approach a group than an individual. If you are alone, keep a brisk pace, get to where you are going and make your way inside. As you return to your vehicle, be prepared to get in right away. Lock the door and drive off quickly. You never know when a predator may be nearby watching to see if you linger and give them an opportunity to assault you.

Although it’s always best to be polite, even to strangers, it is a good idea to be very wary of anyone you don’t know that approaches you. They may ask for directions, money or anything else. Answer quickly, and continue on your way. If they persist, tell them that you are unable to help and mention that a police officer would be better suited to provide assistance. You may find yourself being followed, and if so remain in a public area. Find a police station or security guard and explain your predicament.

This column was prepared by Neighborhood Resource Officer Richard Carranza (Beat 1: Beach, Santa Monica Pier). He can be reached at (424) 200-0681 or richard.carranza@smgov.net.