In general terms, common sense and awareness are the best safety tools to prevent victimization, including when traveling on a bicycle trail in Kenosha County. County Board Supervisor Jeff Wamboldt, who also serves as crime prevention officer for the Kenosha Police Department, offers the following tips for staying safe while on trails:
Be fully aware of your surroundings and have situational awareness at all times. In other words, know where you are and have several means of escape if necessary. For example, people who are visibly distracted by their cellphones or listening to music become easy targets for criminals. Always keep an eye on what is going on around you so that you can better detect suspicious activity and protect yourself and your belongings.
Keep your belongings secure. Keep valuable possessions, like smart phones, out of sight. Store them in safe places and only take them out when you need them.
Be confident (even if you have to fake it). Criminals look for “soft targets” – people who are vulnerable or appear vulnerable. An example would be cowering when coming face to face with a stranger. Being confident automatically will make a person a “hard target” - someone a criminal would not want to mess with because the risk is too great. An example of someone who is a hard target is a person who can keep their head up and look others in the eye (confidence and identification).
Travel in groups. Criminals are less likely to attack people in groups as there is strength in numbers. This is especially important on a bike trail where isolation can occur frequently. If it is not possible to ride with another person, consider not going on the bike trail.
Avoid Isolation, unlit and desolate areas. Criminals tend to lurk in dark and deserted areas where there is less law enforcement and fewer potential witnesses.
Determine whether you are in danger. If you are walking or riding on the bike trail and suspect that you are being followed, don't be afraid to look behind you and find out for sure. If possible, look the person directly in the face; this lets him know that you are fully aware of what's going on and that you can and will defend yourself in the event of an attack.
Seek safety. The first thing you should do if you think you are being followed is to determine whether you can quickly get out of the situation without having to confront the attacker - this also involves situational awareness discussed above. Look around to see if there are any groups of people around and if so, walk or run or ride in that direction. If there is nobody around, or if they are too far away, then you will need to take action against your attacker.
Draw attention to yourself. This is the best way to scare off a criminal, as he or she will be afraid of getting recognized or caught. Scream and yell at the top of your lungs, wave your arms in the air, blow a whistle if you have one; do whatever you can to draw attention to the situation.
- Yell things like "Fire!" "Help!" or "Stop following me!" as loud as you can. If there are people around, they will probably come running to see what is going on.
- Try yelling something specific, like "Dad!" or another man's name; this will trick the criminal into thinking that there is a man nearby who knows where you are and who will come to protect you.
- It is most effective to start yelling before the person has tried to attack you, before they have had a chance to cover your mouth or threaten to hurt you if you scream.
Put as much distance between the two of you as possible. Run or ride as fast as you can toward safety.
Arm yourself for an attack. If screaming and running don't deter the criminal, then continue moving in the direction of safety and while you do, pull out any potential weapons you have. If you carry pepper spray, pull it out and have it at the ready. Other potential weapons include pocket knives, keys, or pens. Keep your weapon in your hand as you continue moving toward safety.
- Sometimes merely showing the criminal that you are armed is enough to prevent an attack. For example, if you do have pepper spray, pull it out and point it toward the criminal, saying "Don't come any closer. I have pepper spray!"
Call the police. If you have a cell phone on you, then pull it out and call the police using 911. If the attacker is close to you, be sure to notify the attacker that you are making the call, as this may scare them away. Loudly say, "Leave me alone. I am calling the police!"
Fight back. If you believe the criminal will attack or if the criminal says he will attack and you have no other recourse, strike first. If the criminal begins assaulting you, use whatever weapons you have to physically harm him. Poke him in the eyes or throat, kick him in the genitals, scratch him with your nails, spray him with pepper spray, etc.
- Continue screaming and drawing attention to yourself as you fight back against your attacker. The longer and louder you scream, the more likely it is that somebody will hear you and come to your rescue.
Always report crimes to the police. Once you have made it to safety, it's important to notify the police of what happened. Doing so may help save the lives of other potential victims. Describe the attacker's physical appearance, location, gender, and style of dress to the police to help them track the person down as soon as possible.
- If you have purchased pepper spray, it's important to learn how to properly use it so that you can act quickly in the event of an emergency.
- Always trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe in a particular situation, or in a particular person's company, then you might be right. Do whatever you can to get yourself out of that situation, even if you think you are being overly cautious.
- It is important to remain calm in the event of an attack so that you can think clearly and do whatever it takes to protect yourself.
- Carry a whistle, body alarm and cellphone.
- Even if you have a weapon on you, never provoke a suspicious stranger into fighting you. Instead, seek safety and only use these weapons to defend yourself in the event that you are about to be attacked.
- If a stranger begins following you, don't go directly to your house. Instead, knock on a neighbor's door or another location where there will be people present.
- It's always better to be overly cautious if you think you are in danger. Don't wait for the criminal to attack you before taking action. Call attention to yourself and run toward safety immediately.