Sarah Phinney has been showing you parks and trails across the Tampa Bay region since July through her #WalkingClub series. Now, she's getting frequently asked questions in the Walking Club Facebook group answered.
Personal safety is a hot topic in the #WalkingClub Facebook group. Now, Sarah Phinney is sitting down with a local sheriff’s office to talk about the best ways to stay safe at parks and trails across the bay area, especially if you are going on adventures alone.
Staying safe while hiking solo
Ideally, it’s best to walk with someone, says Corporal Arthur Madden with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, but when that’s not possible, he says it’s important to first check in with yourself to make sure you are feeling healthy. Then, give someone close to you a heads up about your plans.
“I’m a big fan of letting people know what’s going on,” he said. “Call whoever you can trust and say ‘Hey, I’m gonna take a walk, no one’s available. I’m walking at this time and will probably be back at this time’.”
Packing a snack and water or Gatorade is a good idea too.
Also, Madden says you might want to think twice before using your headphones on your next walk or hike.
“Not only does it take away your sense of hearing because you’re jamming out to whatever you're listening to, but then you’re also focused in on it so your mind is not in tune,” he said.
Madden suggests playing music or a podcast out loud so you can still hear it, but also pay attention to what’s going on around you.
How can I protect myself?
Pepper spray, mace and tasers are legal, but Madden urges people to check Florida statute 790.06 because there are restrictions based on age, criminal background and where you are carrying it.
Madden says walking sticks and personal safety alarms are a good idea.
“Bad people do not want be discovered. They want to get through stealing or hurting you undetected,” he said. “So if you can draw someone’s attention by noise, absolutely.”
Ultimately, he says prevention is the best form of self defense.
“It’s nice to walk and be zen, and just enjoy the world, that’s why we do these walks,” Madden said. “But, you have to be aware of what’s going on around you.”
Advice for early risers and evening walkers
If you’re an early riser or enjoy strolls after dark, Madden says you should wear reflective gear and have lights.
“You want to be seen, you want people to know where you’re at and what you’re doing,” he said.
No matter what time of day, remember to cross the street at designated crosswalks or at traffic lights, instead of cutting across where it is most convenient to you.
“People are more so expecting you at a crosswalk, than they are randomly throughout the road somewhere,” he said.
How can I find out if predator activity has been reported at a park?
Madden says the general public can find out if predator activity has been reported at a park by going to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office website or by submitting a public records request.
Anyone in the state can sign up through the Florida Offender Alert System to get an email whenever an offender or predator moves close to a certain address.
Also, you can search by an offender's name or by a certain address on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s website.
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