More than 700 women of all ages attended a whirlwind crash course in women’s personal safety and self-defense on Thursday night in an event put on by the Billings Police Department and MSU Billings Police Department.
“Ladies, I tell you what, I’m so impressed about your willingness to step up and take some responsibility for helping with your safety because we can’t do it ourselves,” Billings Police Chief Rich St. John told the all-female audience, as they broke into applause.
The event was put on in response to a series of “very egregious” home invasions and sexual assaults going back to the beginning of the year, St. John said.
“The Police Department has made this our highest priority,” he said of the investigation into the assaults. “We have detectives that are dedicated to it. We have the full support of our state and federal partners.”
During the event, officers Shane Weinreis, Bethany Schwartz and Samantha Puckett gathered the hundreds of women around them and demonstrated a number of basic self-defense techniques. The techniques they taught were from the Gracie Self Defense system, which is based entirely on using self-defense against larger, stronger attackers.
Cindy Kern attended the event, which was held in the Alterowitz gym at MSUB, with her daughter, Emaleigh.
“I just thought it was a good idea,” Kern said of coming to the event. “Especially to bring my teenaged daughter.” She hoped her daughter would learn “a couple of techniques that, if something should happen, it gives her a fighting chance.”
Crime Prevention Officer Tom Keightley spoke extensively about situational awareness, ways to make your home safer from invasion and self-defense weapons.
Some of the ways he mentioned to improve your personal safety and to keep your home safer included getting a dog, if possible. Even if it’s only a small dog, it can at least alert you to danger.
Another important thing to do: Think through how you would respond to different assault situations and have a plan of action. He also said to assess your home and figure out how a burglar could get into your home and then address those weaknesses.
He also said it’s important to always have a cell phone within arm’s reach. The Billings area has an enhanced 911 system that allows dispatchers to locate where a call is coming from and who the phone is registered to, which aids police in their response.
Jennifer Mehling also was at the event with her daughter, Andrea. Mehling said she has thought about getting a Taser for her daughter to “a little more protection for her and a little more peace of mind for us as parents.”
If you’re going to get a Taser, Keightley recommended getting something made by the Taser company and not a stun gun.
When it comes to pepper spray, he recommended anything that contains OC-10, which is what you’ll find in the pepper spray police use. He also recommended pepper spray that dispenses in a fog, not a stream, because a fog makes it easier to hit your target.
If you’re going to get a firearm for self-defense, he recommended getting a concealed carry license, so that you know how to use your gun properly and will be qualified to carry it with you.
“If I had to narrow down all of these different tips, all the education, all the experience that I’ve had and give you one thing to take away tonight, it would be to teach you a little bit about situational awareness,” he said.
While that may seem overly simple, situational awareness is the most effective way to prevent assault, Keightley said, even “including carrying guns, pepper spray, guard dogs.”