Published: Oct 06, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 06, 2012 04:59 PM
OK, what now, Avengers?
Another assault last week on the American Tobacco Trail maybe we should call it the Trail without Joy and the good folk of Durham are pretty much back to square one.
Police Chief Jose Lopez Jr., whos willing to try a citizens bicycle patrol to bring some measure of safety to what should be one of the citys points of pride, is frustrated. The City Council is frustrated. People who just want to walk or jog the trail are frustrated.
The only ones who arent frustrated are the young hotbloods turning the trail into a latter-day Natchez Trace, notorious in the early years of the republic for criminal gangs that preyed on travelers going to and from New Orleans and Nashville.
Nobody has been shot, stabbed or worse on the ATT, but the 24 violent incidents that have occurred on that thin ribbon of asphalt in the past two years are enough to make you think twice about setting foot on it in broad daylight.
Yet, we all know that if the ATT isnt populated, the bad guys win by default. The citys reputation suffers every time someone reports an assault.
Lets not dump all the blame on the police. Lopez and his people have an entire city to patrol, and the ATT is one small piece of it. Im not sure the city could ever afford enough cops and all-terrain vehicles to control crime on the trail, which winds for seven gentle miles from downtown to N.C. 54 near The Streets at Southpoint mall.
And if those seven miles are proving a handful, think about the next segment slated for completion in 2013. It will go all the way to the Wake County line.
City Councilman Mike Woodard suggested earlier this year that the Police Department ought to consider backing a citizens bicycle patrol for the trail. Members of this two-wheel Trail Watch would be drawn from the established Citizens Observer Patrol, which now has a presence in all five of the citys police districts.
Of course, that was too easy. Volunteers are there for the asking, but the whole enterprise raises enough liability issues for the city that Lopez says its unlikely anybody will ride out of the corral until the end of October, if then.
Meanwhile, Lopez and Woodard werent the only ones thinking about a bicycle patrol. Debbie West, who lives near the trail, became so concerned about safety on the trail that she recruited her own twice-weekly recon outfit.
Bully for West, who says she didnt know that Lopez was working on the same angle. Even if she had known, I suspect she would have stuck with it until the official bicycle patrol rides through the legal hoops.
Its that kind of individual initiative that often gets the work done when government is writhing in knots of its own making.
Other cities have succeeded with citizens patrols, armed only with eyes and cellphones. There is only one reason patrols can fail here.
Lack of long-term commitment by both the city and volunteers.
The truth is, the novelty wears off fast. But if you think you have the moxie, call Dale McKeel at City Hall (919-560-4366 ext. 30421) for information on training and go for it.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.