"The idea came out of a community meeting, where a couple of people brought it up," said Deputy Chief Joe Blaettler. "[However], residents have always had an interest in self-defense."
Responding to the request, Mayor Brian Stack and the Union City Board of Commissioners sponsored two free self-defense seminars, which were organized at the midway points of both ends of the city.
The goal was to equip women with the techniques that could save them when confronted with a potentially dangerous situation.
"[These seminars] will arm women with the tools they need, no matter where they are," said Stack.
"We felt that by breaking up the city in half we should have a good turnout," said Blaettler.
The first seminar was conducted on Thursday, Aug. 4, at Veterans Memorial School, 1401 Central Ave., and the second this past Monday at the 39th Street Pavilion, 3901 Kennedy Blvd.
Both seminars, which ran from 6 to 9 p.m., brought in between 100 and 200 women each night.
"We've had a great turnout, and this is an excellent step in the right direction," said Stack.
There have been at least four physical assaults taking place on unsuspecting women in Union City and North Bergen in the last six months - including a rape/murder of a woman in front of her Union City home, and a brutal case in which a teenager was abducted from in front of her North Bergen home, raped, and dumped in a Newark parking lot.
Thanks to community tips, Union City law enforcement officials recently released a composite sketch of the suspect in a May 15 assault of a Union City woman behind the Full Moon Bar at 20th Street and New York Avenue. Police are looking for a 5'7 white Hispanic male between the ages of 30 and 35, medium build, and weighing approximately 150 lbs. He had dark hair and eyes, and was wearing a multi-colored shirt and light colored pants the night of the assault.
No new information has been released about the other assaults, but police are actively investigating new leads and are awaiting lab analysis of physical evidence found at the scenes.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Union City Police at (201) 348-5800.
To help demonstrate self-defense tactics, Union City officials brought in representatives from Strategos International, a Missouri-based organization dedicated to providing armed professionals with high-quality training in combating stressful situations.
"We're teaching good common sense strategies, the use of [weapons] and basic escapes," said Ken Good, president of Strategos International. "We give them the mental and physical tools to cope with potential danger."
Representatives of Strategos International are invited to speak to local communities all over the country about basic self-defense.
"We have instructors all over the country, and train 45 weeks a year," said Good.
After an initial briefing about situation awareness Good, along with Deputy Chief Joe Blaettler and other assistants, demonstrated defensive maneuvers against basic grabs such as bear hugs and chokeholds.
"[With recent assaults] it's a timely thing for Union City; people are very concerned, but educating people and giving them options decreases these risks," said Good.
Since men are generally bigger and stronger than women, the main idea for women is to escape first, not to confront the assailant.
The first thing that the women were taught were the four simple secrets to fighting, which are to stay upright as long as possible, keep moving, breathe, and most importantly, relax. According to Good, attackers count on their victims to be panic-stricken
"An attacker's goal is to take you down, but only you can stop yourself from moving," said Good. "You want to become slippery in his arms."
Throughout the seminar, women asked questions and participated in the demonstrations to practice escape maneuvers. They also brought up different attack scenarios that were not initially addressed.
The women were also given instruction in the proper use of pepper spray (mace is illegal to the public), and using basic things as weapons of escape such as canes and flashlights.
"I think it's excellent what the mayor has done for us, and I feel safe with our police department," said Guadalupe Reyes, 34, Union City.
"We need to fight back; it's wonderful to be able to come to this class," said Esther Santiago, 52, North Bergen. "I'm not going to let anyone take my life."