Looking out for yourself, others in a small town | PostIndependent.com

Looking out for yourself, others in a small town

Glenwood Springs police earlier this month released this photo seeking information on this person, who wais suspected of unlawful sexual contact near Target on Oct. 27.
Staff Photo |

Last week, Post Independent columnist Mari Rose Hale’s account of being assaulted in a Glenwood parking lot struck a chord with residents, encouraging people to trust their instincts and keep themselves safe.

Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson couldn’t agree more.

“She just did the best thing she could do out of an absolutely horrible situation — she raised a lot of people’s awareness,” he said. “Be aware and trust your gut. If you see something or someone that seems out of place, suspicious, potentially up to no good, it’s probable that that’s what it is.”

That’s a pretty common attitude in big cities, but in a small town where many people still leave their cars and homes unlocked, folks tend to ignore that nagging voice in the back of their head.

“There are bad people everywhere, and we are very fortunate in this valley that we have few of them,” Wilson said. “We’re easy to get to, easy to get out of and small enough to be relaxed. In some instances, that makes us a pretty good target.”

Hale’s attacker hasn’t been caught, and her case is just one of many. Garfield County saw 69 physical assault cases and 48 sex offenses in 2013. So far this year, the violent crime rate is running ahead of 2013 but behind 2012.

In the Target case, police have store video that they believe shows the man wandering through the store and loitering outside.

Wilson doesn’t advocate full-time paranoia, but he did say a little awareness goes a long way. Pick your parking spot or walking route carefully. If something doesn’t feel right, wait and walk in a group. Confident body language can do a lot to dissuade an attack, while an open posture can help those around you feel more comfortable. Even a nod and a greeting can help defuse a situation, Wilson said.

“People that do things like [attacking others] are counting on their anonymity. They’re counting on not being noticed,” he explained. “A lot of times, making eye and verbal contact with someone like that can dissuade them, because now they’ve been seen.”

While he said he wouldn’t mind seeing more people carry pepper spray and views self-defense courses as a good way to build both skills and instincts, he sees fighting off a threat as the last resort.

“Preventing an occurrence is much more powerful than having a physical ability to respond,” he said.

If it comes to that, he hopes the community will rise to the occasion.

“Be willing to help and look out for others,” he said. “Step in, take action, make a call, get a license plate.”

In the end, Wilson emphasized, don’t be afraid to call the police for an escort or mediation.

“Err on the side of safety. If there aren’t other options to make you feel comfortable, call us,” he said. “We’d much rather get that phone call than the one we got from the Target parking lot.”

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