Help can be just a drink order away

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Angel Shots offered as a tool to keep women safe at participating bars in Brookings

BROOKINGS – Women who find themselves in an uncomfortable situation when they’re at certain bars in Brookings have a new way to get help.

The Angel Shot program began in Brookings earlier this year, and while authorities and participating bar managers say no women have used it yet to escape possible danger, they think it’s a useful tool in keeping women safe while out drinking. 

The program works like this: if a woman at a bar finds herself in a position where she feels uncomfortable or threatened, she can “order” a certain “shot” from the bartender. An Angel Shot is not an actual drink, but rather a discreet code word that lets bar employees know she needs help. 

There are three fake shots a person can order to help them escape from an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation. Depending on which is ordered, the bartender can either help the person find someone trustworthy to escort them to their vehicle, call for a ride home from the BATA bus, Lyft or a sober friend, or make a call to the police.

To retain the effectiveness of the program, the names of the shots are not disclosed here. But female customers can find the specific shot names listed on signs hanging in the women’s restrooms of participating bars.

Though once ranked as the “Safest College Town in America,” Brookings Police Department Sgt. Joe Fishbaugher said, “It would be an eye opener to the community how many alleged rapes, attempted rapes or actual completed ones we deal with here in town.”  

Assistant Chief Derrick Powers said there were 25 sexual assaults reported to the Brookings Police Department in 2018. This statistic includes anything from unwanted touching to forceable rape. Powers emphasized that these numbers are not necessarily assaults that resulted from alcohol or bar-related scenarios. 

The SDSU Police Department also keeps track of its own reported crimes. According to the 2019 Annual Security and Fire Safety Reports, UPD responded to nine reported rapes and one fondling case that occurred on campus in 2018.

Note that these are generalized numbers, that do not include the number of assaults that went unreported.

Brookings Police Department Officer Jorrie Hart said the Angel Shot program is “just another tool that people can use to help them be safer.”

“Some people don’t have the willpower to turn somebody down or publicly ask someone else for help,” Hart said. “If they feel like maybe they’re cornered and it takes them having to use some kind of discreet code word (while that person is standing next to them), to get out of an uncomfortable situation, then that’s awesome and that’s all we could really hope for.” 

Fishbaugher and his team of officers, one of four teams at the Brookings Police Department, brought the Angel Shot program to town. They created posters to promote the service and divided them up among the different bars in Brookings. 

“(While) every bar was hit, we don’t know that every single one chose to put it up,” Hart says. 

Fishbaugher saw the idea for the Angel Shots on social media. He recalls that an incident with a person at one of the bars downtown is what “spearheaded” the conversation, allowing him to introduce the idea to his team. 

“After I saw it, I sat in my office and thought for a while and got to thinking (about) even from when I was young, (how) the dating scene has changed so dramatically,” he said. 

With Tinder and other online dating apps available, it’s common for people to communicate with strangers on a personal level through their cellphones. These conversations then may prompt them to meet in person. 

According to Fishbaugher, this communication trend can be risky and contradicts lessons that were taught to people when they were young.

“Back when they were kids, we were telling them don’t talk to strangers,” he said. “Now you text a person you don’t know, get in their own personal car and have them pick you up and take you home. And it’s the same thing with dating now – you just meet somebody on the internet and say, ‘let’s meet at Ray’s Corner,’ or something. You don’t know who this person is, you have no idea who this person is. They might look cute in their picture, but this person might have a five-page sexual predator history. You have no idea. Once again, (the Angel Shot is) just one way that we’re trying to protect people.”

Cubby’s Sports Bar & Grill and The Wild Hare are two of the bars that participate in the Angel Shot program.  

“We have not had anybody order the shot yet,” Luke Olson, manager of The Wild Hare, said. “However, I don’t think this program is about statistics.” He says he will consider the program a success if they can help just one person out of a potentially harmful situation. 

Unwanted or aggressive flirting is not a foreign concept to people familiar with the bar scene. 

“People are aware of it, especially people that work in the bar,” Mac Rosenwald, an assistant manager at Cubby’s, said. 

Employees at both bars look out for these situations and try to help people if they can. The Angel Shot program is one way they encourage customers to discreetly reach out and ask for help from an employee. Cubby’s ensures that their bartenders are informed about the program.

“We have a sign hanging right at the top of our back stairs, so all the employees see it when they come up and get ready for their shift,” Rosenwald said. 

The Wild Hare also notifies its staff of the program with signs and details about it posted on their staff/employee page.

“(We) try to teach our bartenders and just any employee or staff to just be aware of what’s happening on our floor at all times,” Olson said. “A lot of times we can stay ahead of a situation by being aware of the manners and moods of folks who come into The Wild Hare.” 

As a staff member, he said, “if you can intervene, by all means go ahead. It’s kind of our job to make sure everybody feels safe and comfortable in this environment.” 

While they’re certainly there to help, it’s not the sole responsibility of the bar employees to keep you safe. Fishbaugher says part of the reason why they started the program was to provide an option for people to protect themselves.

“It depends on you and what you’re going to do to protect yourself,” he said. “Law enforcement can’t be everywhere. It’s impossible.” 

The Angel Shot program is not the only sexual assault prevention effort that Fishbaugher has started in the community. He also organized a sexual assault prevention education class at the high school. Females and males learn about the topic separately during the program. At one point during the training, the females go to the wrestling room and are taught basic self-defense skills. 

“Once again, we can’t be everywhere, and there is that aspect where people do need to protect themselves, and if we can give them more options to do that, that’s what law enforcement is about as well,” he said. 

Hart says she’s proud to be a part of the team at the Brookings Police Department because they are proactive in regard to the safety of their community.

“With the sexual assault prevention and healthy relationship classes, we try to teach young boys and girls what they can do to not get themselves in those situations. It’s the same with the Angel Shots. We’re doing things proactively to try to prevent those things from happening,” she said. 

Fishbaugher advises everyone to drink responsibly.

“If you get that gut feeling you’re in a situation you shouldn’t be in, you need to get out of that situation,” he said. 

Rosenwald added, “You can come out and have fun, just know that we’re always here to help you have fun and to keep you safe as well.”

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