DURHAM — After a series of attacks on the American Tobacco Trail last fall, David Criswell stopped walking there unless he was with a group.
Now, after an armed robbery Friday, he is reconsidering whether it is still safe to bike alone on the trail as he commutes to and from work.
“I was riding my bike home at 1:30 in the afternoon,” Criswell said. “At the intersection of (the trail) and Otis Street, I saw someone talking on a cellphone and someone on a bicycle.
“As I passed, the person with the cell said, ‘You might not want to go down there; I was just robbed at gunpoint,’” he said. “The person on the bike told me that (the victim) had just encountered her and asked to use her phone to call 911.”
Criswell said he turned back and took University Drive home.
At least 13 crimes – mostly simple assaults and robberies, and one sexual assault – were reported on the American Tobacco Trail in 2012.
In October, Durham police and residents responded with the Trail Watch Program, a partnership between resident volunteers, businesses and police to work together to reduce crime.
“More than 30 volunteers patrol by bike and by foot,” said Lt. Brian Reitz of the Durham Police Department. “The community has responded to the trail watch by phoning 911, helping people in need, gathering data.
“If we get a 911 call, in real time we do everything we can to apprehend suspects and violators,” he said. “That cooperation with the community is crucial.”
Police bought all-terrain vehicles for patrolling the trail. Earlier this year, Capitol Broadcasting paid for security cameras monitored by American Tobacco campus security staff.
“It’s fair to say we’ve had fewer incidents since last fall,” Reitz said. “But quantifying whether the trail is safe or improved, there are too many variables to dependably say yes.”
Reitz stretches of the trail are hard to patrol because traditional police cars can’t reach them and there are only four all-terrain vehicles, with one more coming.
But Criswell says Durham leaders could be doing more.
“It’s been a month or more since I’ve seen any police presence (on the trail),” he wrote in letter to the editor this week. “I’m sure after this incident police will be back out, but as soon as they withdraw again, something else will happen. Will someone be shot next time?”
“Law enforcement presence to make the ATT safe is expensive,” he continued. “I get that. But if it’s too expensive, then we need to just shut it down. Use the funds for some other Durham park or recreational program.”