Meet J.J. Bittenbinder, the Safety Expert Who Terrified Audiences with His Crime-Avoidance Tips

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
March 29 2013 2:29 PM

Meet J.J. Bittenbinder, the Safety Expert Who Terrified Audiences with His Crime-Avoidance Tips

JJ Bittenbinder
The great J.J. Bittenbinder.

Screenshot from YouTube

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

Fans of the HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show will remember F.F. Woodycooks, the ridiculous security expert and ice cream salesman who encouraged citizens to take back the streets and “shake the crime stick” at crooks.

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Bob Odenkirk’s character was based on a real person: J.J. Bittenbinder, a Chicago detective who became moderately famous in the 1990s for his “Street Smarts” series of videos and live presentations. The charismatic Bittenbinder is memorable for his walrus mustache, his three-piece suits, his flat Chicago accent, and his explicit descriptions of the horrors that might await you if you failed to follow his advice and let the criminal “goofs” get the upper hand.

Here’s a 15-minute excerpt of a Street Smarts TV special that PBS aired in 1993. It’s incredibly compelling, and not just because of the horrified audience cutaways sprinkled throughout. Watch the entire thing, but if you just want the highlights, I might advise you to skip to 3:29, where Bittenbinder offers some tips on how to respond when a madman starts banging on the hood of your car; 10:17, when he calculates the odds of you actually being mortally wounded if you flee from a rapist brandishing a gun; and 5:13, where he kicks off two-and-a-half terrifying minutes on how to avoid being attacked in an elevator.

J.J. Bittenbinder is still making the world a safer place—in 2009, he made an appearance on ABC News as an “expert on crime and personal security.” Did Mr. Bittenbinder save your life? Are you still scarred by the memory of his Street Smarts specials? Send me an email at justintrevett@fastmail.fm and let me know.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.