DURHAM — Lights flashing and siren sounding, just for effect, the police department’s first utility-terrain vehicle went on duty Wednesday with a cruise down the American Tobacco Trail.
The Polaris EFI 500 UTV was the first of three that Durham police ordered in response to several attacks on runners using the popular greenway.
“We want it to be a deterrent,” said Capt. Delma Allen, the department’s community services officer. “The goal is to let citizens know we are present.” He expects the other two UTVs to arrive in the next 10 days or so.
The gasoline-powered, four-wheel-drive Polaris has a top speed of about 45 mph, Allen said. It seats two, and has space for equipment or to transport an accident victim as needed. The police UTVs are basically stock models, with an extra battery and tires suitable for either pavement or off-road surfaces – and the lights and siren.
“Incidents on the trail, that’s why we got them, but they can be used for several things,” said police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.
Since May, there have been two robberies and four assaults on a section of the American Tobacco Trail near Fayetteville Street The incidents prompted a rush of emails to City Council members, complaining that the trail was no longer safe and urging authorities to do something about it. Police Chief Jose Lopez said officers have intensified patrols and surveillance.
Besides patrolling the city’s 27 miles of public trails, police plan to use the UTVs at festivals, in parks and for search-and-rescue operations where standard police vehicles can’t go.
“We’re not boxing ourselves in to one particular use,” Allen said. “We’re going to be mixing it up a bit. It can be used a number of times in a week, some weeks it may not be used. It really depends on the climate of what’s going on.”
Allen said he was assigned to research all-terrain vehicles for the department and chose the Polaris. The department bought the UTVs from Durham Polaris at a cost of $32,000 for all three.
Police Cpl. Darryl Drew Sr. and Officer Reese Carson got to make the first trip.
“It’s a smooth-driving vehicle,” Allen said, actually comparable to the department’s standard Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars. “It’s a lot easier than driving a golf cart.”