A rundown on safety
Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
Gainesville is a city that loves to jog.
Day and night, rain or shine, the shady streets of Gainesville beckon runners and walkers of all ages who aren't easily deterred from getting their daily exercise.
But with several recent reports of violent crime in Gainesville, police are cautioning joggers to be sure they aren't putting their health above their safety.
"We always have had issues and concerns about single joggers, female or male," said Gainesville Police Department Capt. Ed Book. "We do like to hammer home the messages about personal safety."
Book is the commander of GPD's District 3, which covers a large part of southwest Gainesville — the same area where 20-year-old Tiffany Sessions left for an evening walk and never returned in 1989, and the same area where several young women were targeted by a flasher from Marion County while jogging last year.
The Sessions case, which is still unsolved, and the flasher case are the only significant local incidents where joggers or walkers have become victims of crime in recent years. But after a young woman reported being raped by an unknown man who broke into her house in the College Park neighborhood earlier this month, police are urging to residents to take safety more seriously.
"We haven't had significant issues (with joggers)," said Sgt. Keith Kameg at GPD. "But when you have one issue, it's too many."
Southwest Gainesville and the areas around campus tend to have the highest concentration of joggers, according to police. Like in a lot of university cities, jogging is a popular form of exercise among college-aged men and women.
But when exercise becomes a safety hazard — such as when young men or women jog alone late at night — police say it's not worth the risk.
"Gainesville is a very safe city, but it's probably not a good idea to jog late at night by yourself in any city," Kameg said.
According to FBI records, Gainesville doesn't have a disproportionate number of rape reports compared to similar university cities. In 2005, Gainesville had 99 reported rapes, whereas Tallahassee, which is slightly bigger population-wise, had 132 reports, and Athens, Ga., which is slightly smaller, had 41 reports.
Hilda Sorrow, a public information assistant at the Athens-Clarke County Police Department in Georgia, said her department also tries to keep an eye on late-night joggers.
"You can see joggers at all times," Sorrow said. "Here, there and everywhere."
Cherish Kemp, 18, and Gentry Adams, 18, who are both freshman at the University of Florida, said as long as they keep to well-lit campus roads, jogging at night as young women doesn't seem unsafe.
"Last semester I went at night all the time, like 10 p.m.," Adams said Wednesday afternoon when she and Kemp were jogging alongside Lake Alice.
Both Adams and Kemp said the recent rape reports don't scare them, and the outside temperature is usually the biggest deciding factor when they go for a jog. So in the warmer months, a evening jog is much more appealing than a "drippy, sweaty" mid-afternoon run, Adams said.
"There's a possibility rape could happen anytime," Kemp said. "I don't feel any less safe than I did last semester."
"I have my cell phone in my hand and my keys out when I run," Adams said.
"I feel more guarded by a cell phone than pepper spray," Kemp added.
Although there are some tips for jogging safety that are universal — jogging with a buddy and wearing light-colored clothing, for example — carrying protection such as pepper spray or a stun gun are decisions that should not be taken lightly.
"If you do run with something like that, you need to make sure it stays in your control," said Shannon Wallace-Giles, GPD's community resource officer for District 3.
Wallace-Giles said it's important to think about how you might use pepper spray or a stun gun in case of an emergency: will you carry it in your hand? In your waistband? And realize that it's not your responsibility to catch a criminal who tries to take advantage of you.
"The main thing I would caution everyone about is that you don't stick around to see if it works" she said. "If you carry something like that and deploy it, the first thing you do is run away."
The popularity of electronics like MP3 players and iPODs also raise safety concerns for police when it comes to joggers. Recent UF graduate Tessa Knox, 24, admits she likes to listen to music when she jogs, which is why she tries to jog during the day.
"I know I kind of zone out when I'm jogging and I'm not totally paying attention," Knox said.
Overall, police are hoping the recent rape report makes residents stop and think about their safety, whether it means being more aware of their surroundings or taking more safety precautions before they leave the house.
"In Gainesville, we wouldn't have enough police (to protect) all the joggers who are out there," Kameg said. "We, as police, can put out the information, and at some point, that's the most we can do."
Alice Wallace can be reached at 374-5036 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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