Personal Safety


While Palo Alto is a very safe city, crime still occurs here.  This page contains many safety tips that apply in different circumstances; expand the accordions below to learn more.

Three Basic Rules:

  • Stay alert: pay attention to your surroundings, don't have your face buried in your cell phone, and be aware of what is going on around you.
  • Be calm and confident: stand tall, walk purposefully, and make quick eye contact with people around you.
  • Trust your instincts: if a place or situation makes you uncomfortable, leave.


Personal Safety When Walking

Report suspicious behavior promptly to police.  In Palo Alto, call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or 9-1-1 if it's an emergency. 

  • Plan the safest route to your destination and use it. Choose well-lit busy streets and avoid passing vacant lots, alleys, or construction sites. Take the long way if it is the safest way.

  • Know your neighborhood. Find out what stores and restaurants are open late and where the police and fire stations are, in case you need to get to a public place or safe space fast.

  • Carry your purse close to your body and keep a firm grip on it.

  • Carry a wallet in an inside coat or side trouser pocket, not in a rear trouser pocket.

  • Don't flaunt expensive jewelry or clothing.

  • Walk facing traffic so you can see approaching cars.

  • Don't overburden yourself with packages and groceries that would make it hard to react if something happened.

  • Bring "emergency" change for cab fare, bus fare, or a telephone call.

  • Have your car or house key in hand as you approach your vehicle or home.

  • If you suspect you are being followed by someone on foot, cross the street and head for the nearest well-lit, populated area.  Walk quickly or run to a house or store to call police. If you are really scared, scream for help.

  • If you are being followed by someone in a car, change direction immediately and make a visible point of writing down the license number or car description, or using your cell phone to take a picture or video of the car.

  • Never accept rides from strangers under any circumstances.

Personal Safety When in Elevators

Report suspicious behavior promptly to police.  In Palo Alto, call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or 9-1-1 if it's an emergency. 

  • Look in the elevator before getting in to be sure no one is hiding or behaving oddly

  • Always stand near the control buttons if possible

  • Get off as soon as you can if someone suspicious enters

  • If you are worried about someone who is waiting to get into the elevator with you, pretend you forgot something at the last minute and don't get in with them.  Wait for the next elevator car

  • If you are attacked while in an elevator, hit the alarm button and as many floor buttons as possible

Personal Safety When in the Car

Report suspicious behavior promptly to police.  In Palo Alto, call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or 9-1-1 if it's an emergency. 

  • Keep your car in good running condition to avoid breakdowns.

  • Plan your route in advance, particularly on long or unfamiliar trips. Have enough gas and money to get there and back.

  • Drive with all car doors locked. Keep windows rolled up whenever possible.

  • Never pick up hitchhikers.

  • If you see another motorist in trouble, notify the police.  Do not stop to render assistance.

  • If your car breaks down, raise the hood, set out flares, and tie a white cloth to the door handle. Stay in the locked car and use your cell phone to call for help.  If someone stops to offer assistance, do not get out of your car and let them know that help is already on the way.

  • Park in well-lit areas that will still be well-lit when you return. Lock your car doors.  Do not leave any valuables in your car, even hidden in the trunk.

  • Be particularly alert and careful when using underground and enclosed parking garages.

  • If you are being followed while driving, call 9-1-1 from your cell phone and ask for assistance.  Consider driving directly to the nearest police or fire station, open gas station or other business.  Try to get the suspect's license plate and description.

Personal Safety During Outdoor Activities

Report suspicious behavior promptly to police.  In Palo Alto, call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or 9-1-1 if it's an emergency. 

  • Choose routes in advance that are safe and well-populated with others.

  • Vary your route and schedule.

  • Use extra caution when jogging and biking at night.  Use appropriate lighting and wear reflective clothing (and reflective gloves, to make hand signals while bicycling more visible).
  • When jogging, face oncoming traffic when possible.  This allows you to see if a vehicle is pulling over so the occupant can interact with you.  Bicyclists, at every time of day, should always ride in the same direction of vehicle traffic, as required by law.

  • Know businesses that are open and the locations of police and fire stations if you need to go somewhere for help.

  • Consider carrying a whistle.

  • Do not wear headphones. If you must listen to music while working out, leave one ear open so you can remain somewhat alert to your surroundings.

  • For more resources on bicycling and walking in Palo Alto, as well as links to content on how to ride safely, visit the Bicycling & Walking page from the City's Office of Transportation.

Personal Safety While on Public Transportation

Report suspicious behavior promptly to police.  In Palo Alto, call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or 9-1-1 if it's an emergency. 

  • Try to use well-lit and frequently-used stops.

  • Try to sit near the bus driver if possible.

  • Don't fall asleep. Stay alert and aware of your surroundings.

  • With trains, stand back from the platform edge, and also avoid sitting near an exit door.  A criminal could reach in and grab a purse or jewelry as the train pulls away.

  • While waiting, stand near other people or near the token or information booth.

  • If you are verbally or physically harassed, attract attention by talking loudly or screaming.

  • Be alert to who gets off the bus with you. If you feel uncomfortable, walk directly to a place where there are other people.

Tips for Staying Safe When You Travel

Traveling, whether for business or pleasure, can be a wonderful experience.  We recommend that you follow these safety tips.

Before You Leave Home

  • Stop mail delivery.  Visit the U.S. Postal Service Hold Mail Service webpage for details of this free service.

  • Leave shades and blinds in normal positions.

  • Put at least two interior lights on automatic timers, and consider doing the same for radio or music.

  • Ask a neighbor to keep your property maintained, if need be (mow the grass, take out the trash cans, etc.)

  • Have a friend park a car in your driveway occasionally.

  • Leave a house key with a trusted neighbor in case of emergency.

  • Lock all windows and doors before you go.

  • Make a record of your passport, credit card and traveler's check numbers, as well as plane, train, or bus tickets. Give a copy of the list to a family member or friend for safekeeping.


On the Road

  • Carry as little cash as possible. Use traveler's checks, ATM cards, credit cards, or electronic payment on your phone whenever possible.

  • Keep careful tabs on your plane, train or bus tickets; they are as good as cash.

  • If you're driving, plan your route carefully. Travel on main roads and use maps. Have your car serviced before you leave.

  • If you're stopping overnight, remove luggage and other valuables from the car.

  • If your car breaks down, turn on the emergency flashers and open the hood.  Use your cell phone to call for help.  Stay in the car.  If anyone stops to offer help, do not exit the car and let them know you are awaiting help.


In the Hotel

  • Don't leave your luggage unattended anywhere.

  • Use all auxiliary locking devices when occupying or leaving your room.

  • Do not leave valuables in your vehicle or hotel room. Place them in the hotel safe deposit box. Always take cash, credit cards and keys with you.

  • Identify fire exits, elevators, and public phones in case of need. Plan the best way to get out of the building in an emergency.

  • Check your belongings daily. Arrange your things in the closet or dresser so you will know immediately if something is missing.

  • Leave the TV on in your room when you are gone to make it seem occupied.

  • Be observant. Report any suspicious activity to management and/or the local police as appropriate.

  • Look around before entering parking lots or garages. Park near well-lit walkways when possible.

  • Do not answer the door in a hotel or motel room without verifying who it is. If a person claims to be an employee, call the front desk and ask if someone from the staff is supposed to have access to your room, and why.


In Your New Environment

  • Carry your purse close to your body; don't let it dangle. Carry your wallet in an inside coat or front trouser pocket.

  • Learn about your surroundings. Ask the hotel/motel clerk about problem areas and avoid them.

  • Select sightseeing companies and guides carefully.

  • Make sure everyone in your party, including children, knows the name, address, and telephone number of your hotel or motel.  Consider programming it into everyone's digital device.

  • Avoid advertising that you are a tourist by the way you dress.

  • Carry only the cash that you need, and in small denominations.

  • Don't flash your cash or jewelry.

  • If members of your group go off separately, be sure to check in at prearranged times or otherwise make arrangements to stay in touch.


Keeping Fit (Safely) While on the Road

There is no reason to cancel your daily fitness routine just because you are traveling.  Just take some precautions:

  • When jogging or walking, team up with a friend, colleague, or family member, especially if you go out early in the morning or late at night.

  • Check to see it your hotel/motel has a health club or has access to one you can use.

  • Avoid isolated roads, trails, and paths. Stick to well-lit routes. Vary your exercise time and route.

  • Wear clothing that makes you visible to motorists: bright colors for daytime and white or reflective clothes at night.

  • Always carry identification.

  • Carry change for an emergency phone call.

  • Consider carrying a whistle.

  • Always wear your glasses or contacts.

  • Stay alert, especially if you are in a strange area. Don't walk or jog wearing headphones.

Robbery Prevention in the Workplace

If you work in a business where you could become the victim of a robbery, here are some considerations.

Help Reduce the Likelihood of Being Robbed

  • Lock unused doors.

  • Avoid working alone. If that is not possible, turn on a hidden radio or television so criminals will think someone else is there with you.

  • Vary the schedules and route for your bank deposits each day.

  • Only keep necessary cash in the register.

  • Make sure the cash register is clearly visible to passersby.  Arrange the counter so that the customer (or, the robber) is visible from the street.

  • Avoid placing signs or displays near windows that block visibility into the business from the street.

  • Use a drop safe to deposit excess cash.

  • Display signs at entrances and exits indicating that safes require secondary keys not in possession of employees.

  • Advertise your security alarm system with signs in visible locations.

  • Work with other stores on your block and agree to collectively watch for any suspicious behavior.

  • Promptly report suspicious behavior to the police.  In Palo Alto, call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 or call 9-1-1 if it's an emergency.


What to Do During a Robbery

  • Do what the robber demands.  Stay calm and do not resist.

  • If your business is equipped with a silent alarm and you can reach it without being noticed, use it.  Otherwise, wait until the robber leaves and then activate the alarm and also call 9-1-1 to report the robbery as quickly as possible.

  • If possible, signal other employees that a robbery is in progress.  Have a prearranged signal for such emergencies.  If the robber may see you, though, wait.

  • Try to avoid sudden moves.  Many robbers are just as nervous as their victims.

  • The most important thing you do if you are robbed is be the best possible observer / witness you can be.  Focus on paying attention to as many details on the robber as possible:  not only their appearance and clothing, but also any accents, the words they use, and anything else that may be helpful for the police investigation.


After the Robbery

  • Call 9-1-1 immediately.  Stay on the phone and answer all of the dispatcher's questions.

  • Lock the doors to the business to prevent other customers from coming into the crime scene, and to prevent possible re-entry by the suspect.

  • Write down everything you can remember about the robber and the crime itself: appearance, height, weight, color of hair and eyes, scars, tattoos, accent, clothing, weapon, and anything unusual about them.

  • Try to remember the robber's exact words.

  • Try to observe the vehicle the robber uses to get away, if you can do so safely from inside your business.

  • Keep everyone away from any surfaces the robber may have touched.  Police will be interested in collecting physical evidence like fingerprints and DNA.

  • Cooperate fully with the police during the investigation, and with the prosecutors if a suspect is ultimately arrested and charged.  Your ongoing help in the criminal justice system is crucial.