"Fight until the end."
That's the advice given by the female victim of an attempted River Forest kidnapping to a small group of residents who met Friday with Deputy Police Chief Craig Rutz and other officers to talk about crime in River Forest. "You are responsible for your own safety," she said.
The petite victim, who did not give her name, spoke briefly and did not go into the events that transpired on Aug. 11. It has been reported that while she was walking around 8 p.m. — still daylight hours — in River Forest, she was grabbed by a man who attempted to force her into his car. After fighting the man, she broke free and escaped. Police caught the man — a convicted sex offender — who had attempted something similar earlier in the day in another town, according to Rutz. He was charged with aggravated kidnapping.
"She kept her head and didn't panic," said Rutz, about the incident. "Instinct is what saved [her]."
Resident Pia Manon and members of the William Court condominium association set up the informal meeting, held in the gym at Keystone Montessori School on North Avenue. Rutz was joined by three other officers and two firefighters. Fewer than 20 residents were at the meeting.
The kidnapping attempt and the village's first homicide in five years — a woman was shot and killed in Priory Park on July 11 — contributed to the perception that River Forest is getting more dangerous, said Officer Troy Fields. "Our safety has been shaken a little bit. But it happened in our community where it isn't going to be tolerated."
He said a cellphone is the best safety tool a person can carry. "Hopefully that [phone] dials 911 with one button." He recommended a personal alarm, a whistle or a 10 percent pepper spray solution. "That's what I gave to my wife and daughter," Rutz said.
Rutz also recommended free Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) and "RAD for Kids" classes held at Concordia University, taught by River Forest police officers.
He offered several recommendations to prevent burglaries: "When I was at school, we were told that the best advice is to get a dog. There are two things a burglar is afraid of: sound and time." Police are available at no charge to give your home a security survey, he said. "Every six months, walk around the outside of your house" and view it through the eyes of a potential burglar.
He said police have changed their advice for children alone when a stranger comes to the door. "We used to say don't answer the door, but now a burglar will ring the doorbell and then go around and kick in the back door. Now we say 'call the police.'" And "if someone rings your doorbell at 3 a.m., call the police. Maybe turn on a light inside." Det. Sgt. Marty Grill said the typical home burglary takes place between 8 and 10 a.m., "when people have taken their kids to school and gone to work in the morning."
Officers discussed an uptick of "gypsy scams" targeting elderly residents recently, where burglars talked their way into residences by impersonating a utility worker, plumber or repair man.
"They get you to open the door and distract you," said Sgt. Michael Thornley. "Then [an accomplice] follows them in." With new smart meter reading technology in place in most homes, "If someone comes to your door and wants to 'check the meter in the basement,' they're lying to you." Always ask for official ID from any utility worker who comes to the door, officers advised.
Officers advised registering for a new resident alert system, "Connect CTY" that sends out alerts via texts, email or phone call. For overall crime reports, residents were urged to "read the newspapers" or look at free River Forest crime maps at www.raidsonline.com.
Firefighters at the meeting asked residents to make sure their house numbers were clearly marked in front with 4-inch-high numerals.
"We need to be able to see the address on your house," said Lt. David Witken, who also asked residents to "label your circuit breakers." Witken recommended testing detectors monthly and replacing batteries with every daylight savings shift. "Change your clocks, change your batteries," he said.
He also recommended carbon monoxide detectors within 15 feet of bedrooms. "A smoke detector in every room except the kitchen will give you time — time to get out." With more plastic in our surroundings that burns "hotter and faster" a room can burn in six or seven minutes, Witken said.
In the case of a random crime such as attempted kidnapping, Rutz said, "Never get in the car with someone. If they say 'get in the car or I'll shoot you,' don't do it. Fight them. If they shoot you, at least an ambulance can find you."
"If you are in that situation, replace your fear with anger," said Rutz. Also "have a sense that your life is valuable — a sense of personal self esteem."
"Call us," said Rutz, "Call us a million times. That's our job. You pay so many taxes in this town. ... If you call us about something you see, you give us what we need, "probable cause" to make a stop."