Some women feel unsafe in Carbondale | PostIndependent.com

Some women feel unsafe in Carbondale

Ryan Summerlin
rsummerlin@postindependent.com

Often sparsely attended, Tuesday evening’s trustees meeting in Carbondale was packed with women who came with a clear message: They don’t feel safe in town and local government isn’t moving fast enough to fix it.

A month has passed since the Carbondale Police Department announced that it’s investigating two recent assaults on women walking at night.

The most recent of these was a sexual assault, while the other was an “alleged assault” that wasn’t sexual in nature, Chief Gene Schilling said Wednesday.

The department had a couple people of interest in late July, but it’s been unable to verify whether they are connected to the assaults.

Schilling added that investigators at this point do not believe the two incidents involved the same assailant.

Since then talk of public safety has popped up at trustee meetings. But no solid steps have yet been taken, no earnest discussion has happened and the matter won’t be a legitimate agenda item until the board’s Sept. 20 work session.

Carbondale’s bike, pedestrian and trails commission will discuss lighting and public safety at its Sept. 12 meeting.

“I’m here because I’m under the impression that this isn’t being taken seriously by the town council,” said the mother of one of the victims.

She was one of a dozen women who appealed to the board Tuesday to take some quick action to bring back a sense of security in town.

“I moved here after being attacked in Chicago. Now I don’t feel safe walking home from the movie theater at night,” she said.

These kinds of crimes can happen anywhere, so safety is a perception, said Annemarie Zanca. “Carbondale needs to put forth an effort to make people feel safe.”

Pam Williams said she went so far as to buy pepper spray after hearing about the assaults. “Something has got to be done and needs to be done fast,” she said.

One option to improve public safety that’s been mentioned is adding lighting to certain parts of town, including Gianinetti Park and the Rio Grande Trail. The women also pushed for more police patrols at night.

However, any work on the Rio Grande will require a conversation with Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, noted Erica Sparhawk.

The mother of a victim balked at some trustees’ concern that lighting upgrades might be too costly. The board is now going into budget season and is weighing its priorities for 2017.

“I feel like the costs should not be an issue,” said Laurie Guevara-Stone. “You can’t put a price on our safety.”

Guevara-Stone said that years ago she was attacked at night in Carbondale, and she doesn’t feel safe walking at night anymore.

Assaults on women often go unreported, and many more than these two cases may have not come to light, said Trustee Katrina Byars.

Schilling said these are not ordinary crimes in Carbondale.

Since January 2014 the town has seen only two cases of assault that resemble these recent crimes – namely, that they involve perpetrators whom the victims didn’t know.

“It’s very disturbing that we had it happen at all,” the chief said.

Schilling is holding off on talking about increased public safety steps until his meeting with the town trustees.

In the meantime the Police Department is partnering with the Carbondale Recreation and Community Center to bring back a women’s self defense course.

“We patrol with what we have as much as we can,” Schilling said in response to the calls for more night patrols. The Police Department focuses on downtown but also sends officers into outlying areas as well, said the chief.

When the department is fully staffed (currently it has two officers in training) night patrols typically consist of three officers on weekdays and five on weekends.

“The process just takes time,” said Schilling. “If they said you can have more officers to patrol, and if I was lucky enough to hire a new officer today” it would still take months to get him or her trained and allocate equipment.