Local News

Residents uneasy after crimes on American Tobacco Trail

Posted June 22
Updated June 23

— Another crime on the American Tobacco Trail in Durham has some questioning its safety.

Durham police said a man exposed himself to a woman and her two children at about noon Wednesday, just three weeks after a similar incident on the trail.

In a 911 call, the crying woman said the man did not have any weapons but "showed me his parts" and then kept walking.

On May 31, police said a man exposed himself to a woman who was jogging and then followed her.

While both incidents happened in the same location, about 1 mile into the trail from downtown Durham, it is unclear if they are related.

Over the past six years, dozens of incidents have been reported on the trail, including gunpoint robberies and attacks.

In 2011, police warned women against walking on the trail alone after four indecent exposures in eight days.

In 2012, there were more than a dozen incidents, and in 2013, a man was attacked with a stick and robbed and at least two people were robbed at gunpoint.

In 2014, there were three assaults in a single week, and last year, a father and son were attacked on the trail.

Residents question safety of American Tobacco Trail

The string of incidents contribute to what some people call a feeling of unsafety while using the trail.

“I always bring my cellphone, and I usually am on the trail with at least one other person or as a family. I feel like in groups it’s safer,” said Megan Johnson, who uses the trail once a week.

Others said the incidents are not enough to deter them from using it.

“I’m just sad that occasional things happen, but I think they happen everywhere. It’s sort of the game of putting down Durham that some people want to emphasize, whereas when you put it in relative terms, it’s pretty insignificant,” said Rodney Derrick, who frequents the American Tobacco Trail.

Derrick said he usually runs in the morning, but incidents are typically reported in the afternoon or early evening. He also acknowledged that he likely encounters fewer issues than women on the trail.

“In almost 40 years of running, I’ve never had any problems running in the morning. But, I’m a man and it’s more dangerous for women just by the very nature of the experience,” he said.

Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel said he feels like the past few summers on the trail have been really safe, and he attributes that to police patrols and a citizen group called Durham Community Trail Watch.

"The best way to make the trail safe is for a lot of people to be out here because if a lot of people are going to be out here, then that means that people who are not doing good things on the trail will be scared away from doing it," Schewel said. "One of the best things we've got, in terms of safety of the trails, is this wonderful trail watch group and they ride this trail constantly."

In 2013, there were talks of placing cameras along the trail, but Schewel said those are not the most effective way to prevent crime because they would need to be monitored constantly.

“Cameras aren’t really the answer. The answer is more people with eyes on the trail, and that includes especially these trail volunteers, which we have many,” he said.

There are four cameras on the first mile of the trail.

The cameras were paid for by WRAL's parent company, Capitol Broadcasting Company.


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  • James Marley Jun 22, 4:17 p.m.
    user avatar

    I don't want to bash on Durham because its just too easy to say "what do you expect its Durham." However, Durham does have some major issues.

    Last night, I had dinner with a good friend of mine who is in the Durham PD. From what he described police in Durham really cannot do their jobs properly due to the directives they are given from their police chief. From what he described to me I don't see how Durham can ever fix their crime problems that have plagued them for decades now. Is really sad to see. I hope somehow they can find a way to keep these incidents from becoming daily occurrences.

  • Donnie Dietrich Jun 22, 3:31 p.m.
    user avatar

    In some of those areas, it would be best to carry some protection. A pistol might be a good item and not just for attacks from people. There are lots of animals out there too, some with rabies.

  • Teddy Fowler Jun 22, 2:48 p.m.
    user avatar

    Yes not many of these events are happening on the Chatham or Wake county part of the trail...

  • Kelly Thornburg Jun 22, 1:28 p.m.
    user avatar

    How can anyone be surprised? When you build a trail running through areas with high crime rates, why on earth would you expect the trail to be a safe and protected zone? It's like running into the middle of a fire fight, then acting shocked when you get shot.