Casing a Joint: Why You Should Sit Facing the Door - ITS Tactical

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Casing a Joint: Why You Should Sit Facing the Door

By Bryan Black


We all make choices in life and those choices always affect the outcome, whether for better or worse. While many of these choices you make are subconscious, there are small conscious choices you can start making that will give you an advantage in those situations you find yourself in that are beyond your control.

I’m specifically talking about the way you interact with locations you visit. While I’ll cover the broad topic, I’m specifically going to discuss choices as simple as where you sit.

Stupid Criminals

Let’s face it, there are certainly dumb criminals out there, but I tend to lean more in the direction of giving them more credit for street smarts than they probably deserve. Taking the approach that you don’t need to “outsmart” criminals is a mistake you don’t want to make.

Criminals tend to favor softer targets, or locations where they know they’ll have a higher probability of success in said crimes. If you put on your thinking cap and put yourself in the shoes of a criminal, you’ll more than likely come up with many of the places I’ve listed below, which in my mind are common public targets of opportunity for criminals.

Shopping Malls, Retail Establishments, Restaurants, Movie Theaters, Gas Stations and Grocery Stores are at the top of my list. Each of these presents enough discussion to turn into separate articles on what makes them “soft,” but what I’d like to focus on is why it makes sense to be remain aware of your surroundings in places like this and the small choices you can make to help your situational awareness.

Casing a Joint

Years ago I took a few classes from the now-defunct SCG International, which reinforced a few habits that have stuck with me. They’re actions I take when walking into almost any building, whether it’s a restaurant, business, or even another person’s home.

SCG International

These all come from actions criminals are taking against you on a daily basis and go right back to my earlier comment about thinking like a criminal. When they’re searching for that lucrative target of opportunity, they go through actions that are commonly referred to as “casing.” This is nothing more than being observant without being noticed.

Good criminals can do this without alerting anyone that they’re doing it. Bad criminals exhibit telltale signs like wide kid-in-a-candy-store eyes, soaking in everything around them and pausing too long at certain places. You’ve seen it before, you just either paid attention to it, or ignored it. That’s the goal here, stop ignoring things that are out of place. It’s the first sign you’ll get before something even worse occurs.

I get made fun of a lot for carrying a compass on my watch with wisecracks like “do you get lost a lot?” I laugh them off, but I always know what direction the front of the door faces where I’m at. This can come in handy when reporting what direction someone was headed who just left, or where to tell someone to go to reach my position using nothing more than landmarks. I try to be cognizant of those too on my way in.

Doors, Exits and Hard Cover

The exterior of a building can tell you a lot as well. Are there security cameras? Where are they pointing? Where can you walk so your movements will be recorded? Many look at cameras as detriment and yes, we may be living in Orwell’s 1984, but you can use big brother technology to your advantage as well.

If it’s dark outside, where are the areas in the shadows that a criminal would hide to get the jump on you? Those are good things to notice as you approach a building, so that you can plan the best route during egress.

Speaking of leaving and now moving into the interior of the building, take note of the exits. Where are they? How many are there? Are they alarmed? Meaning, will an audible fire alarm go off if the door is opened? Back to cameras. Are security cameras utilized inside as well as outside? How many are there? Where are they pointing?

In the unlikely event bullets start flying during the middle of that delicious Sashimi melting in your mouth, where can you move to hard cover at? What walls are more reinforced than others? Will they stop a bullet? Typically the kitchen in a restaurant is good for hard cover and will more than likely include an exit that employees use to take the trash out.

Back Against the Wall

Something that will give you a leg up in your reconnaissance of the building and more advance notice of impending threats is to sit facing the door. I’ve never felt comfortable with my back facing the door, or shoved in the corner of a restaurant, unable to see what’s going on around me.

Not only should the right location give you a vantage point overlooking the entire restaurant, but it will also let you observe the foot traffic through the primary entrance. Ideally this would be a seat with your back against a wall and as close to a secondary exit as possible. That front entrance is more than likely where a potential threat would come from, since you’ve already done your due diligence and sized up everyone sitting inside, right?

From your command position you can conduct your site assessment and make a trip to the bathroom to gather more information. When I was first trying to make these habits stick, I’d draw out the building on a cocktail napkin, labeling the entrances, exits, cameras, interior layout, cardinal directions and more. An additional way I was taught to refer to the sides of a building is through a colored structure reference, as shown below. The white side is always the main entrance side of a building, regardless of what direction it faces. This creates an easily identifiable reference as an alternative to cardinal direction.

SCG International

To obtain the lucrative spot facing the door at a restaurant when I’m out with other people, I’ve been known to speed walk in front of them, just to get first dibs on where to sit. However, if it’s just my wife and I, she knows me well enough to know where I’d like to sit. Even if she’s not sure, she always courteously asks before she sits down. Just one of the reasons I love her.

Situational Awareness

Gift of Fear Book

To take a page from Gavin De Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, predicting violence will always be an intuitive call.

De Becker describes listening to your instinct as law and that if you’re constantly living in a state of fear and paranoia, you won’t be able to hear your instinct in the situations where it’s warranted and trying to save your life.

That being said, you’ll know when you know. I’d highly recommended reading The Gift of Fear, which has helped my situational awareness more than any other one thing I’ve done. Rather, it’s actually taught me not to ignore what I used to dismiss as unimportant.

Something I need to also address with this topic, is that I’m not advocating living in a constant state of hyper vigilance. No one can exist like that and it’s extremely counterintuitive. I don’t laser focus my attention on the front door and I don’t ignore the people I’m with at a restaurant. I do, however, keep my head on the proverbial swivel though and try to be as aware of my surroundings as possible. I want as much advanced notice of any threats as I can get.

To jump back to not living in hyper vigilance, I follow the Cooper Color Code, which comes from Colonel Jeff Cooper and his book, Principles of Personal Defense. Cooper was known for advocating a color code to describe a person’s state of mind. Not so much in regards to a level of alertness, but purely the mental state.

  • Condition White — You’re unprepared and unready to take lethal action.
  • Condition Yellow — Your life may be in danger and that you may have to do something about it.
  • Condition Orange — You’ve determined upon a specific adversary and are prepared to take action which may result in his death, but you’re not in a lethal mode.
  • Condition Red — You’re in a lethal mode and will shoot if circumstances warrant.

These conditions are obviously geared around shooting scenarios, but are applicable outside of those as well. Cooper also states in his book that you can’t live your life in a constant yellow, your body won’t be able to handle it.

Another respected viewpoint I appreciate is from my friend and frequent ITS Contributor, Jeff Gonzales, who illustrated the importance of the Shock Threshold during one his mindset lectures at a course I was attending. He talked about this concept, which is the measure of time from the initial shock of an event to the point at which you react. Without incorporating ways to train your Shock Threshold, you’ll never know how you’ll react to situations.

Factors that can affect Shock Threshold are physical fitness, age, experience (more familiar, less Shock Threshold) and genetics. Remember, strong people are harder to kill.

The World at Large

It can be an intimidating, scary place out there, but that doesn’t mean you should live in fear, nor ignore your fears.

Criminals always select the time and place; it’s out of your control. The only thing you can control is your reaction to what may be imposed on you and your family. Hopefully the ways I’ve highlighted to interact with your daily life are worthwhile enough for you to incorporate into your routine.

Developing your situational awareness just might give you the leg up you need to avoid dangerous situations or even stop the criminals who just want to watch the world burn.

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  • Jason Glatfelter

    The only way I sit. Always have an exit plan.

  • Chris Doucette

    Facing the door, back to a wall without any additional doors…
    Trying to make people act all paranoid like us LEO’s, huh ITS? Lol

  • Charles J Miller

    Sight lines, baby. Sight lines

  • Charles Cusanno

    You might want to revise your text and delete references to SCG International and its fraudulent owner Jamie Smith

    • ITS Tactical

      Whatever happened to the company and their owner doesn’t change the fact that I attended training there years ago. I’m not sure what your comment is supposed to insinuate. ~ Bryan

    • Charles Cusanno

      Bryan, Let me preface my comment with this…..I, in no way am trying to start a pissing match here. The principles you presented are valid and useful. I like your stuff – I just despise posers like Jamie Smith and what they bring (or not) to the tactical community. No, it does not negate anything you did and my remarks were not intended to be disparaging in nature.
      What I’m saying is this: In linking to your previous article detailing the course taken in Holly Springs. (I took that same course in 2011.) SCG – and Jamie Smith are implied to be authorities on the subject matter taught. Yes, it was decent training but there was quite a bit of bullcrap in it as well. When Jamie says he was CIA, that gives him credibility on spy craft and its ancillary skills. Now Jamie was never CIA, he was never co-founder of Blackwater and much of what he taught came from various individuals with whom he interacted. Specifically, he would talk to guys like me who have careers in law enforcement and glean tid bits of tactical methods, he’d then interact with SOF types and do the same, etc, etc., eventually blending it all together into what he presented as training. I hope I cleared up any ambiguity.

    • Jim Pacheco

      Wow, I didn’t know this.

    • Rick Buckner

      there are several trainers floating around who bullshitted their way somewhere. One slammed Sherpa and it almost cost him dearly and then transferred his training company to others all in the guise of he was to busy

  • Darlyne Hayes

    Do you back into a parking space when you go out to a restaurant so you can drive out in a hurry if need be?

  • Christopher Jon Gombos

    When you grow up visiting a father with a gambling problem you learn this at a young age .. We have left through the kitchen of more than one restaurant..

  • Mike Gromer

    I agree with Chris D, we’ve been doing this since day 1

  • Sharon Jackson

    Right…simple tactics work. Its all about using your head aka common sense

  • Josh TheGent Jackson

    Used to believe this until my dad pointed something out. If you cannot sit seeing the door due to who you are with or general seating arrangement, relax and realize you will know if you need to respond based on the expressions of all those who are facing the door. It requires the same amount of energy/attention, plus the potential advantage whoever will do harm will focus on those who immediately see or engage. With your back to them you can conceal (or potentially conceal) your movements.

    • Christopher Tio

      Sorry, I disagree. Relying on the common individual to be observant isn’t something I would choose. Reaction is always slower than action and doubling the reaction time (by observing an observer) is certainly not a good thing and I don’t see any advantage to not facing the potential threat at all.

    • Rubicon1

      My question would be which way would you be facing? Front door, back door, emergency exit that may be neutralized? A threat that was already in the establishment appearing un-threatening?

    • Josh TheGent Jackson

      I respect your disagreement and know we may never see eye to eye on it. However, I have tried the quick responses, known the range of people who are prepared and also excessively on edge. There comes a time where a warrior must accept you will never be prepared for everything, instead, adapt and hope you make the right decisions. If you do not, accept that death is inevitable and take as many of the bastards as you can with you.

    • John Orcutt

      You also have to bear in mind you should have multiple individuals’ reactions to assess. This means you’re not depending on the single average person’s “condition yellow” SA. You have a larger than 1 sample size, at least. It’s a good enough half-solution for the few enough occasions you run into it, not to turn around and force the missus to go somewhere else to eat, for me anyway.

    • Christopher Tio

      Josh TheGent Jackson I get where you’re coming from. It is about making the best of a situation. I’m rarely in a situation where I need to do it, but it does happen. I’m not going to leave a restaurant for example because I can’t see the door. Mainly because I can almost always face in the direction of the door. U0001f60e

  • Matt Seb

    Adrienne Austin Adrian Angelica Jan Jack Kari thanks for putting up with me

  • Kino L. Davis

    Ummm, I am so bad at this that a while back HH6 and I went to dunch and she says “that’s a good table, no ingress on the six, you can see the front entrance and there is an alternate exit on the other side” – maybe she was just busting my chops though 😉

  • Jeffrey Marks

    Situational awareness is not exclusive to LEOs. We as LRRPS were taught this in the Air Cav by our Ranger LT. My dad was LE for 33 years and we always fight for the best position in a public establishment lol

  • Kevin Craft

    Collen Craft Lauren Grace Craft. Like I’ve always said.

  • Graham Valker

    Shelby Jackson good read

  • Nicholas Flom

    great article, my gf is always confused why i have to sit facing the door and with my back to a wall

  • Andrew Blake

    i’ve been doing this for YEARS… nice to see an article about it from you guys!

  • Stephen Loomis

    Be polite and courteous but have a plan to kill every person you meet

  • Jim Pacheco

    Not bad pointers.

  • Mark Vasquez

    I have a habit of always taking the chair that faces the door . I have no idea why I do it but it’s been like this for as long as I can remember. I’m uncomfortable otherwise.

  • Robs Raiders

    I always make my wife sleep closest to the door . that way if anyone comes in they’ll attack her first and ill have more time to react ……love telling her that

    • Canadian LoneWolf

      Nice, that’s planning ahead 🙂

    • ShawnHart1


  • Eric Flores

    Victoria Ramirez Kyle White why I always face the door.

    • Kyle White

      Yea I knew you had it covered tonight

  • Rick Buckner

    Always do and if it’s not me my training partner does

  • Gregory Ferrell

    Yes good article. I do back into parking spaces, sit facing doors in restaurants and always have a plan. I am a vet and the guardian of my family. This also gives the bad guy one last chance to rethink being stupid.

  • Mike Mulligan

    Learned to do this a long time ago from my Dad.

  • Brian Jones

    Situational awareness!! Be smart.

  • Twix Wrapper

    For me, just for me, Every fight is to the death or dam near. The “thought” of death or dieing does not exist. There is no greater honor than to die saving the inocent. If things go bad you need to decide if you’re going to live for nothing or die for something. “Stay Safe” and look cool doing it.

  • James Siems

    to pay attention to whats going on.

  • Pamela Protz Whitaker

    Always advised women in abusive relationships to back into parking spots and driveways. Burying cash and an extra key is advisable too.

  • Triva Posey Fridley

    Ha! I ALWAYS face the exit

  • Griz Griz

    I sit at the bar. Bar mirrors let me look around without looking around. I can see front, back, sides and behind the bar is a safe spot to drink between reloads. The bartender’s expression to incoming patrons doesn’t hurt either.

    • Gerald Wallace

      Wait. Bar mirrors? Is this a thing at every bar? Seriously. Inform me please

    • James Baum

      Not every bar but most, I think they do it so when they line the bottles up in front of them it gives the illusion of more selection. But good tip on using them to look around.

    • Griz Griz

      Thanks James, yes, I wasn’t saying every bar has mirrors. I was just pointing out another option when you can’t find ideal seating. Here is an example of one of my favorite bars. Many of the bars here in Colorado are a bit rustic and have big mirrors.

    • Ed

      Good Point. I’ve done this for years. It’s also a great way to check out the ladies without looking conspicuous

  • Canadian LoneWolf

    Good read, thanks Bryan.

  • Steve Smith

    I always sit facing the door with my back to the wall

  • BryanTheSnail

    rickhholland How do you recognize the cops in the joint? They are all sitting facing the door.

  • JamesDeal

    I always face the exit, unless I am with my Navy Seal cousin. Then he faces the exit. I have no

  • Good read and good info.  I would only recommend the addition of a 5th color to Cooper’s color code. As civilians, when we have to explain why we acted, especially to a jury, articulating the difference between “red” and “black” distinguishes that you know the difference between holding at gunpoint and pressing the trigger. Simple things will help the jury see you as the good person.  I adopted the 5th color after attending the MAG40 with Mas Ayoob.    Keep up the great work!

  • Celanx

    A nice tie in to this article would be writing about OODA loop. Wouldn’t mind brushing up on that.

  • There is another detailed summary of the Gift of Fear here, on this executive protection blog:

  • Silence Dogood

    For building sides, first responders use A (front) B (left side) C (rear) and D (right side) as a convention.

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