‘Be prepared, not paranoid’: Street survival expert’s advice following uptick in local carjackings

Police departments from Seattle to Snoqualmie, from Pierce to Snohomish counties have sounded an unprecedented warning for the last six months - armed carjacking cases are not uncommon, and they’re completely unpredictable.

Recently, a woman was assaulted and carjacked inside a laundromat in South Tacoma.

Over a span of four weeks from August to September, there were ten local reports of carjackers causing collisions, often rear-ending other cars, and then ambushing drivers at gunpoint. Often called “bump and jacks.”

“Some of these are staged accidents, and some are straight-up suspects approaching people and threatening them while they are entering their vehicles,” said Kent police in a statement, released on Oct. 5.

According to the Department of Justice, carjackings were up 8.1% in 2022, compared to the previous year. Nearly 90% of carjackings reportedly involved a gun or knife, and many of the robbers worked in groups, marking a 13% increase in arrests involving two or more carjacking suspects. Boys under the age of 18 accounted for 17.8% of those arrested.

Retired Seattle Police Officer Kerry Zieger, who once trained the Seattle Police bike patrol on survival and defensive skills, now teaches everyday people urban survival tactics, like how to react and survive the same kind of armed ambush when you’re behind the wheel.

Zieger said situational awareness in the car, like keeping a car-length space behind the car in front of you, and using simple alert and confident body language when you’re on foot, might keep you from even becoming a target.

We asked Zieger to demonstrate a few of what he teaches, and he surprised KIRO 7 producer Julie Berg, even as Berg agreed to participate in a carjacking scenario.

With sudden screaming and a point of a rubber police training pistol, Zieger got the attention of the entire crew.

“Get out of the car right now!” Zieger screamed, and Berg reacted, taking action without hesitation, saving herself, instead of her car.

“That’s exactly the way I want you to react if the person gets the jump on you,” Zieger said.

“A lot of this is police-like training,” he said.

“You had your hands up, it wasn’t in a surrender position,” Zieger said. “I like to teach people, keep your hands at face level to protect your face and your head, in case someone would want to assault you in this situation.”

Zieger also told Berg that being hit by another car requires a measured response, in case the driver hitting you did it intentionally.

“This is where you want to really use your situational awareness, and your threat assessment, Zieger said.

Kerry explained to Berg how to react if she is hit the same way.

“Look in your rearview mirror, what are you seeing?” he asked.

Zieger said if the person who hit you slowly checks the damage first—before approaching you, your threat level reduces.

“Or is it somebody runs out of the car? Do they have a gun or a weapon? That is where you’re going to have to make the decision whether you’re going to stay or you’re going to run off,” he said.

Zieger said if you’re in doubt, speed away with your head lowered and call 911 to report the collision and your fear of being robbed—immediately.

“Generally, these knuckleheads doing the carjackings, they just want your car. They don’t really want to hurt anybody. They just want to instill fear,” Zieger said.

“So fight back only as a very last resort?” we asked.

“A very last resort, and only when you really feel that your life is in imminent danger,” said Zieger.

He said if a person with a gun is in front of your car-

A life-or-death situation could require an extreme reaction, according to Zieger.

“She (the driver) sees you coming (armed with a gun) say you’re on foot- she’s behind the wheel, what happens?” we asked.

“I’m going to recommend to her to use that vehicle as a self-defense weapon, with somebody coming up on you with a gun, use that car, accelerate, knock that person right over, and drive off. So she’s got to hit the gas and gun it right through you? Drive right through them!” Zieger said.

If you’re outside the car and you’re threatened at point-blank range, Zieger teaches the absolute last resort tactic. In the blink of an eye, he takes control of a handgun.

“I call it ‘return to sender’” Zieger said. “The important thing is, when someone has a gun on you, (within your close reach) you want to control the barrel. I want to make sure it’s pointed towards you so if the gun goes off, you get it. I’m going to pull it out, and I’m ready to use this weapon on you if I need to.”

He said to avoid getting to the point where you become a predator’s target, you have to make a point with the way you carry yourself.

“So if you look weak, you’re going to be a target?” we asked.

“I preach confidence!” Zieger said. “Confidence! Predators are looking for a particular person, male or female. Doesn’t matter what age, they are using their situational awareness. I guarantee it.”

Zieger said being consistently alert, appearing confident, and aware of your surroundings can save your life.

“I always say, be prepared, not paranoid,” he said.