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Hairstyle dangers in community corrections

Understanding the role of personal appearance in officer safety

female police detective

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In third grade, I witnessed my first fistfight between two girls on the school playground. After exchanging three or four punches, one girl managed to grab the other girl’s ponytail, effectively ending the fight. The girl whose hair was seized was pulled to the ground, decisively defeated in what seemed to me, at nine years old, one of the most epic battles ever. The level of pain inflicted on her before a schoolteacher could break through the crowd was astounding. This experience taught me early on that hair can be a major disadvantage in a fight.

Community corrections: A world of unseen dangers

In the professional realm of community corrections, a typical 8-5 workday often appears routine and uneventful, leading officers to a sense of complacency regarding their safety. However, it’s crucial for officers to continuously remind themselves that the individual seated across the desk is a criminal with a criminal mindset. This reality presents a significant reason for officers to maintain heightened self-awareness at all times.

Is it really necessary to consider one’s clothing and hairstyle before starting the workday? While nobody should be deemed responsible for becoming a victim due to their attire, gait, or behavior, criminals have admitted to paying close attention to these aspects when choosing their victims. [1] For instance, Ted Bundy, a notorious serial killer, confessed in a 1985 interview “he could tell a victim by the way they walked down the street, the tilt of their head, the manner in which they carried themselves.” [2] Research supports this notion, indicating that criminals indeed observe and often select victims based on certain noticeable traits. [1]

The Grayson-Stein study: Signals of vulnerability

Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein’s study, “Attracting Assault,” highlights how individuals may inadvertently signal vulnerability to criminals through their posture, gestures, and exaggerated movements.

The study involved showing videotapes of randomly selected people, both men and women, walking in a high-assault area of New York City to a group of 12 prison inmates convicted of assaulting strangers. The purpose was to assess the potential of these individuals to become victims. Additionally, a separate group of 53 inmates, convicted of various assaultive crimes against strangers ranging from simple assault to murder, was asked to rate the videotaped persons in terms of their likelihood of being assaulted.

The study found that those who apparently were less likely to become victims exhibited an “organized quality” in their body movements, appearing comfortable and at ease. [3]

The dynamics of physical confrontation

The field of community corrections focuses on rehabilitating criminals, which implies that probation officers face a constant risk of being attacked. Such an attack, should it occur, might unfold like a typical street fight, often lasting around 20 seconds. [4] However, under certain conditions and with specific advantages, a client could potentially overpower an officer in mere seconds.

Experiencing a blow to the face or being thrown to the ground is a serious matter. If it happens, those few seconds can feel extremely prolonged and may become the most intense moments of an officer’s career. Moreover, depending on the attack’s severity, an officer could be subdued, knocked unconscious, or even suffer a concussion. Given these risks, it’s worth considering whether it’s advisable for officers to have their hair hanging in front of their face or flowing down their back while on duty. These hairstyles could potentially increase vulnerability during such critical situations.

Hair: A surprising factor in officer safety

Over the past 18 years in my career, I have developed the ability to shift from a law enforcement perspective to adopting a criminal mindset. This approach has repeatedly enhanced my safety, as it allows me to view situations through the lens of a criminal. It may sound unconventional, but something as simple as a person’s hairstyle can be a significant factor in this mindset. For instance, if I were assessing potential victims, hairstyles like braided hair or a long ponytail trailing down someone’s back would stand out as ideal targets. Therefore, from this viewpoint, an officer’s choice of hairstyle can indeed be considered a potential risk factor.

Ensuring that one’s hair is securely tied up can contribute to an officer’s sense of safety in the workplace. When it comes to situational awareness, I strongly recommend arranging long hair into a bun as a precautionary measure. This is important because, during a struggle, hair can become a target and pose a safety concern. In the contemporary workforce of community corrections, attention to hairstyles is crucial for both men and women. In light of this, it would be beneficial for departments to offer natural control tactics or self-defense classes specifically for officers. These classes should include techniques for countering potential hair grabs during an attack, equipping officers with the necessary skills to defend themselves effectively in such scenarios.

Self-defense and situational awareness in community corrections

While it’s clear that long hair can pose a danger in the realm of community corrections, it’s not necessary for officers to resort to cutting it. Instead of a visit to the hairdresser, there are more effective ways to prevent and safeguard against potential assaults, whether in the office or in the field. This raises a crucial safety question: “Do you think your client might attempt to grab your hair and pull you down to the floor?” The answer is uncertain. However, what we do know is that mastering basic and essential self-defense skills can be highly beneficial. These skills are straightforward and can be easily learned and applied in various situations, providing a significant advantage in ensuring personal safety:

  • Make sure you dress for work with safety in mind, including your hair style.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings
  • Make your office space safe, look for items that can be used against you in a struggle and move them
  • Use self-awareness, if you see that the conversation during an office visit or the field contact is getting violent in nature, do not dismiss it, find your way out of the situation quickly in an effort to deescalate the situation.
  • Be in the moment; never forget where you are and who your client is.

If you act smart and stay alert, officers can react fast at the smallest sign of danger. Research confirms the value of situational awareness. Proactively taking steps to enhance safety and dissuade criminal activity is an unfortunate but important part of personal safety (1). Criminals appear to have a good sense of who’s going to be an easy victim, and selecting the safer option in hair styles proves to be a safe option. However, if officers wish to avoid being a victim they must develop self-awareness skills for better self-defense. [5]
Acting smartly and staying alert enables officers to react swiftly at the slightest indication of danger. Research underscores the significance of situational awareness in this context. Proactively adopting measures to enhance safety and deter criminal activity is an unfortunate but vital aspect of personal safety. [1] It’s been observed that criminals often have a keen sense of identifying easy targets. Choosing safer hairstyle options can be a simple yet effective strategy in this regard. However, for officers aiming to avoid becoming victims, developing self-awareness skills is crucial for better self-defense. [5] These skills not only involve physical preparedness but also a keen understanding of one’s environment and potential threats, thereby providing a comprehensive approach to personal safety.

We cannot predict the future, all we can do is prepare for the worst. As a profession, we should always remember, “We are each other’s greatest teachers.”

Authors’ note: I would like to thank all of the members of the United States Marshals Gulf Coast Violent Offender & Fugitive Offender Task Force, for all of their assistance and guidance in my pursuit of enhancing the training of community corrections officers, parole officers, and probation officers. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Leo Perez; e-mail


1. Patrick W. How Criminals find their most likely victims, The Science of victim selection may help avoid being targeted.

2. Holmes RM, Holmes ST. Serial Murder. Sage, 2009, p. 221

3. Grayson B, Stein M. (1981.) Attracting Assault: Victim’s Nonverbal Cues. Journal of Communication, 31(1):68-75.

4. Facts you should know about street fighting.

5. How do criminal choose their victims? The London Chun Academy.

Leandro “Leo” Perez, Jr. is a Unit Supervisor for the Hidalgo County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas-Pan American in 2004. He is also a 1999 graduate of the University of Texas at Brownsville Police Academy.

Before coming to the Hidalgo County C.S.C.D, he was employed as a Security Manager under the Federal Protective Services contract in the Southern District of Texas. He came to Hidalgo County C.S.C.D in September of 2005 as a community supervision officer. He served as a line officer for four years before being assigned to the United States Marshals Violent Offender Task Force.

He is the creator of the P.O.S.T (Probation Officer Safety Training), D.E.P.O.T (Developmental & Educational Probation Officer Training) and S.T.O.P (Safety Training for Office Personnel) training programs. His training programs have been presented at various conferences throughout the state of Texas. In 2003, he was one of the recipients of the Simon Property Rose Award for his role in the emergency evacuation of the La Plaza Mall Shopping Center, a 130,0000-square-foot shopping center located in McAllen, Texas. In 2016, he was the recipient of the Texas Probation Associations Judge Terry L. Jacks Award for his significant contributions to the community corrections profession. In 2023 he was the recipient of the Texas Probation Associations Sam Houston State University Award, for his scholarly contributions to the community corrections profession.