The City of Redding, in partnership with a local trail promotion group, announced a new public safety program in the Community Room Thursday night.
An audience of more than 60 learned about Trail Watch, groups of volunteers who schedule safe strolls together on city trails. The announcement came after Redding Police Chief Robert Paoletti stressed the importance of walking in numbers while on the river trail.
“People are most vulnerable when they are by themselves,” he said. “The group concept is the most tangible thing we can do immediately to get people to protect themselves on walks. There is always safety in numbers.”
He recommended trail walkers bring along a good-sized dog, or pepper spray, but came back to the concept of safety in groups. Referring to the 83-year-old woman who was recently assaulted on the river trail, Paoletti said, “She had pepper spray that day. She was attacked from behind, so pepper spray becomes kind of irrelevant. However, had she been a group of people, somebody may have seen that coming and they may have been able to prevent it.”
City of Redding Director of Community Services Kim Niemer explained how people could find each other to form groups on the trails. She opened a city webpage at www.cityofredding.org/departments/parks-and-recreation/parks, where she said those interested can click on a link marked Sign up for Trail Watch.
“What we want to do is encourage each of you to sign up,” she said to the audience. ” … It’s self-scheduling, in half hour increments.” She said citizens can join existing groups or create their own.
She and Friends of the Redding Trails Co-Chair Peter Anderson also called on audience members to contribute their ideas for increasing safety on the trails. Suggestions included installing markers on the trail so a citizen could accurately report the location of a possible problem, signs warning of surveillance cameras with and without surveillance cameras and citizen patrols.
City Council member Francie Sullivan argued formal citizen patrols were unnecessary. “There is nothing that keeps every single one of us from becoming a citizen patrol,” she said. “We don’t need a formal patrol, because that’s expensive.”
Damsel in Defense worker Jennifer Fansler stressed fighting back. “What we do is actually teach you self-defense moves and teach you how to be safe out there,” she said. “My husband and I teach safety education classes. They’re totally free, and they only last an hour.”
Carson Blume called for Redding citizens to hold fast against their fears. “Don’t let this scare you from the trails,” he said. “Because if we withdraw from the trails and let people put signs up and scare people, we lose — automatically because a) we’re not using the trails and b) bad people are just going to come and take them over.”
Terri Lhuillier vented her shock that something like the attack on 83-year-old Bonnie Smith could happen in Redding.
“I’m just so upset about it — I’m sorry — I’m still shaking. You have to take care of your most vulnerable people! You know, the children and the elderly — we just can’t let this happen! And we’re talking about walking together. I don’t want to walk together! I hike by myself. And I want to feel safe. That’s why I live here in Redding. …This is the worst thing that I’ve known in Redding since I’ve been here.”
The Community Room erupted in applause.
In his comments at the beginning of this meeting, Chief Paoletti gave an update on progress in the search for Smith’s assailant.
“We’ve got a lot of tips. If you’ve seen the video, you know the quality’s not that great,” he said. “The victim has identified him based on his clothing. So, we’re going to continue to run down all those tips. And we’re going continue working the case until we have him in custody.”
After the meeting, Mayor Missy McArthur said that if the public maximizes use of the park it will be safer. Asked about her impressions of the proceedings tonight she answered, “I thought it was positive that people were looking for solutions and working together. Everyone wants to use the trails. I use the trails. I want to be safe, too.