Durham, N.C. — Police have a new tool to battle crime on the American Tobacco Trail – three all-terrain vehicles to respond more quickly to crimes and potentially dangerous situations.
Thirteen crimes have been reported so far this year on the 7.5-mile stretch of the American Tobacco Trail that cuts through Durham. They include seven assaults, four robberies, one attempted robbery and one case of indecent exposure.
In 2011, five robberies, two assaults and six cases of indecent exposure were reported on the trail in Durham.
Police have increased patrols in the area with undercover and uniformed officers on foot and on bicycles, but they said Friday that the ATVs will help them cover more ground faster.
"It's a phenomenal tool," said Sgt. Hector Borges of the Durham Police Department.
The goal is to have at least one of the ATVs on the trail from dawn until about 10 p.m.
"When it gets dark, it gets dark quickly," Borges said of isolated sections of the trail.
Durham officials also trimmed back plants to improve visibility on the trail and placed markers every quarter-mile so people will have a better idea of where they are if the need to call 911.
Still, police said, getting them to call can be a challenge.
"People at times feel like they have to wait for a crime to occur before they can call 911, and we recommend, if anything seems suspicious, to please call us right away," Borges said.
The changes help trail-goers like Lekisha Gunn feel a little better.
"I run solo, and so kind of having protection or feeling like I'm more protected definitely helps," Gunn said.
Police want Durham residents to know the trail is safe, Borges said, but police can't protect it alone.
"We continue to invite the public to work hand-in-hand with us," he said.
People who use the American Tobacco Trail are encouraged to go in groups and to carry cellphones to call for help, if needed.
The city has organized an "Our Trail, Our Town" effort that kicks off next Wednesday night in the City Council Chambers at City Hall to teach residents what they can do to help stay safe on the trail.