With recent reports of suspicious white vans being seen in neighborhoods and with the holiday season fast approaching, Whitesburg police held a public forum Thursday night to address safety issues.
“We’ve got people still to this day that think crimes don’t happen,” said Whitesburg Police Chief Tyrone Fields. “They refuse to lock their doors. Back in the 1970s you could probably get by with stuff like that, but in 2013 you can’t.”
A woman, who had been running on the Whitesburg Bypass in broad daylight on Nov. 1, says she was almost abducted by two men in a cream-colored delivery van. As the van continued toward the woman forcing her close to a guardrail, she saw the passenger reach for a door handle and she sprinted away.
Police have questioned drivers of at least 50 vans since the incident was reported.
Police have also received several complaints of a people posing as salesmen who are traveling in a white van and going door to door in neighborhoods in Mayking, Whitco and Whitesburg. Fields said he doesn’t think the people are actually selling security systems.
“We want the public to be aware,” said Fields. “Watch out who is coming to your doorstep. Watch who is driving by your house.”
Fields said people should not donate money to charities they don’t recognize.
“Just because someone comes to your door wanting money, doesn’t mean you have to give it to them,” said Fields.
Two weeks ago a Whitesburg resident told Fields that a woman came to her door selling cupcakes, but there were no cupcakes in the pan she was holding.
Fields said that a few years ago an elderly woman was robbed after letting strangers into her home.
“She was a fine elderly woman, a church- going woman who had a good heart,” he said. “She allowed the people to come into her house to use the restroom. After they left she noticed a lot of her jewelry and personal belongings including her prescription medication were gone. We don’t want you to ever allow a stranger to enter your house.”
Fields encourages people to call police if they see anything suspicious.
“If you don’t call for our help, we can’t respond to it,” he said.
Even though Whitesburg City Hall closes weekdays at 4:30 p.m., Fields said a fireman is on duty upstairs in the fire department 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can dispatch calls to police.
Fields said years ago police officers used to escort people to their cars if they worked later hours.
“That’s what we want to get back to,” he said. “Whenever you need an escort, we are there. That is what we are here to do is to protect you all. We’re there for you. We’re there to help.”
Jodi Back, a Damsel in Defense consultant, spoke briefly at the public forum and said that one in every five woman will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
“My goal is to keep us from becoming a statistic,” she said. “The number one weapon in self defense is your mind. Stay calm. Always have a tool ready. If you are aware of your surroundings you can grab something to protect yourself.”
Back sells stun guns, pepper sprays and Kubotan keychains.
In an effort to not be an easy target for crime, Fields discourages people from posting personal details on the social media website, Facebook.
“Everybody posts everything on Facebook,” said Fields. “Nobody needs to know that your husband went to the grocery store.”
If you are going out of town, ask neighbors or family members to watch your house and have mail forwarded, he said.
Fields doesn’t recommend placing a Christmas tree near a window.
“If they see you have 100 gifts under your tree more than likely they will want to take half of those,” he said.
Listed below are safety tips Fields mentioned at the public forum Thursday night:
• Try to avoid driving at nighttime.
• Try to avoid driving alone.
• Keep car doors locked and windows closed.
• If you must shop at night, park in a well-lit area.
• Make a note of where you parked.
• Don’t leave your unattended car running.
• Don’t leave valuable items visible in car. Put those items in the trunk.
• Locate your keys prior to going to your car.
• Keep your purse close to your side when shopping or leave your purse in the trunk of the car and just take a credit card.
• Always be aware of your surroundings.
• Avoid wearing a lot of jewelry.
• Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. Keep cash in your front pocket.
• Don’t let children go to public restrooms unattended.
“We want to practice safety, safety, safety,” said Fields. “During the holiday season safety is the number one thing.”
For more information about Damsel in Defense, Back may be contacted at (606) 369-3593.