You can tell a lot about a person by the way he walks
I would be a relatively easy person to follow. I am a rather large man, and I walk with a “duck” walk that looks like my legs want to head off in separate directions. I have a clear conscience and nothing to hide. Therefore I seldom look behind me. Have you ever taken the time, while “people watching,” to notice how people walk?
That gait can identify a target from a long distance away, even if the target is walking away from the observer. It can identify a target who changes his outer garments to trick those following, because the clothes may change but your walk is part of you.
One of the elements of a person’s gait is the speed at which he walks. Does the person walk quickly, deliberately, slowly or with a limp?
Walking speed is often dependent on the age, physical abilities, current level of intoxication, the weather, mood or how busy someone is. Busy people with schedules to keep do not mess around. They walk deliberately and with purpose, because they have places to go, people to meet and things to do.
Street criminals on the other had rarely wake to an alarm clock and do not have schedules to keep — except perhaps making it into the parole office at least on the same day as the scheduled appointment. They tend to have what I call a “going nowhere walk.”
This walk is usually a slow deliberate saunter that shows no purpose other than to just be out on the street. This walk’s slower cousin is the druggie or drunk “shuffle” which is also slow and involves lifting one’s feet as little as humanly possible or dragging one's feet instead.
A good street cop will notice the “going nowhere walk,” especially when small groups are all walking at this same slow speed. Groups walking like this are just looking for trouble or mischief or they are tourists taking in the sights. A good street cop can figure out the difference pretty quickly based on the behavior of the group.
I experienced both once in New York in Time Square in the late 1980s at high noon one summer day. I was looking mighty touristy snapping pictures and looking like a hayseed muttering, "Gol-ly . them buildings sure are tall. Lemme just snap a few pitchers fer the fellers back home, they ain't gonna believe this!"
I looked up ahead on the sidewalk at a group of “yoots” as Joe Pesci would say, who were lollygagging slowly down the street when one points me out to another who nods but does not laugh. I swear I could read their minds. I knew they were going to do a “bump and run,” and try to grab at least my camera.
I ducked in a store, took my time, stuffed my camera in my front pants pocket, my wallet in the other front pocket and pulled out my shirttails to hide the bulges.
When I walked out several minutes later, the group had stopped across the street but on the path I had been walking. They were all watching me as I walked toward them and believe me my heart was going pitter-patter. I squared my shoulders, kept my head up and walked toward them—no longer the tourist and looking much more determined and cop-ish now with no camera in my hand.
I was surprised that I walked past the group without any jostling or taunts except one guy said, “SUCKER” as I passed.
When I visited NYPD in 2002, my police handler asked if I had ever been to New York before. I told him that I had in the 1980s and he laughed and said, “Oh I’m sorry were you the victim of a crime?” I told him I was not, but retold the story about the youths that pointed me out at noon in Time Square. The NYPD detective nodded his head, smiled and told me my hunch was right and the bump-and-run thieves were pretty prevalent back then.
The story illustrates another characteristic of a person’s walk. What kind of bearing does a person possess when walking. Is a person confident, cocky, bold and no nonsense or timid, frightened and unsure? Which person walking would you expect to be more likely to be a victim of crime? Think like a predator. The weakest of the herd is what the criminal predator will attack first.
Just so you know, few people walk perfectly. Some are “duck” walkers like me, some are “pigeon toed”—incidentally, I have noticed many athletic people and fast runners are slightly pigeon toed. Some walk with a stiff “Harley” limp. Some are bowlegged and some are knock-kneed. Some saunter as if “too cool for school.”
Some have a bounce in their step, while some walk flatfooted and look kind of tired. Some people are just naturally graceful and some appear clumsy. Some appear jittery and dart. Others appear confident and genuine.
Posture of a person’s walk can also be a good identifier. Is the person slumped or ramrod straight with the chest puffed out? Does his head and body list to one side or the other? Do their arms swing free or are they pinned at their side like they have a gun or something tucked under their arm?
Some burglars I have followed varied their speed walking and appeared stealthy. One off-campus student housing area burglar liked to walk backward and stopped to sit on other people’s porches and just looked up and down the street, trying to spot surveillance. A great “tell” on a burglar is when they stop in front of a house and look up and down the street then start up driveway or walkway. When they do this, they are about to strike.
However you may walk, get out and do it because it is great exercise. Take a cellphone with you and be another set of eyes and ears for your neighbors and for the police. Avoid walking alone at night and keep your head on a swivel, always maintaining an awareness of your surroundings. Next time you are waiting and watching people — notice their gait.
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com.