Police chief considers stepping up trail patrols

Jul. 17, 2013 @ 06:43 PM

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Wednesday that he’s considering more patrols along the American Tobacco Trail following Tuesday night’s armed robbery of a rollerblader.

But Lopez said he believes the trail is safer than in the past, because fewer trail crimes have been reported to police this year than in 2012.

“The trail is as safe as many other places,” Lopez said. “If you have an individual who is going to commit a crime, it could happen anywhere. We just have to watch and adhere to crime-prevention [measures].”

A woman who was rollerblading on the American Tobacco Trail near Otis Street was robbed of her phone by a gunman about 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.

It was the third armed attack on the Durham part of the trail since June, including one July 5 on the trail near Otis Street when a man was robbed at gunpoint of a phone and MP3 player, and on June 18, when two men on the trail between Otis and Fayetteville streets were robbed at gunpoint in a rainstorm.

Lopez said investigators “are trying to see if they’re connected.”

“We’re still working on the trail,” Lopez said. “But all in all, I think it’s a lot safer than it had been by virtue of the fact that we’ve had less incidents.”

Police investigated at least 14 crimes on the trail in 2012.

“A robbery can happen anywhere,” Lopez said. “We’re thoroughly investigating this one, but we can’t be there all the time.”

He said many trail attacks have been “crimes of opportunity.”

“And that’s what we have to be careful of – not to give people the opportunity,” he said.

Lopez said using the trail in daylight, carrying a cell phone and walking with a friend are ways to cut the risk of being attacked.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell said that any crime, regardless of where it happens, should be taken seriously.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened there, but I don’t want to differentiate where crimes occur in our community,” Bell said. “[The victim] could have been attacked on Fayetteville Street or University Drive. I would take that just as seriously. To me, a crime is a crime, and where it occurs isn’t as important as the fact that it occurred.”

Bell said that he feels comfortable walking the trail and does so occasionally.

Meanwhile, city officials said Wednesday that the trail currently has two security cameras, which were installed in January after months of publicity about robberies and attacks on the trail and an outcry from citizens to make it safer.

The cameras are near the trail’s entrance at Blackwell Street on one pole. One points back toward the trail and other points toward Enterprise Street – more than a mile from this summer’s attacks.

Capitol Broadcasting Company, which owns the nearby American Tobacco Campus, paid for the first camera and has said it will pay for at least 14 to 17 more that eventually will be installed along the first four miles of the trail, which runs 6.75 miles through the city. The city is paying installation costs.