Atlanta mayor promises a safe Beltline

Mayor Kasim Reed said Friday the Atlanta Beltline is safe, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve its own police force.

In fact, it needs it so much the city decided to roll out the APD Path Force unit a year early.

The mayor introduced 15 patrol officers dedicated to what is now less than six miles of completed trail and six associated parks. At the same time Friday, he pushed back against questions about crime on the Beltline.

He said the new police unit was intended to ensure that enthusiasm for the trail — officials say the Eastside trail had 18,000 users on Mother’s Day alone — isn’t undermined by a few opportunistic criminals.

“This unit is going to be focused on the Beltline every single day,” Reed said. “If you commit a crime on the Atlanta Beltline, you have a heightened chance of getting arrested.”

In a month of patrolling, the unit has arrested or cited at least 60 people, largely for quality of life crimes — urinating in public, having an open container of alcohol and littering — that could deter from the trail’s attractiveness.

APD noted the unit already had rounded up people with outstanding arrest warrants.

The unit — funded by a $1.8 million federal grant — will replace other officers who were assigned to the Beltline to calm citizen fears after several high-profile robberies on the section that runs through Midtown and the gentrifying Old Fourth Ward.

The Beltline — a planned 22-mile loop for bikers, walkers and a hoped-for streetcar plus an additional 11 miles of paved trails — is a priority for the city. While the one-mile Northside trail and 2.4-mile West End trail opened in 2010 to modest usage, the popularity of the 2.25-mile Eastside trail that opened in October magnified the impact of robberies (six as of this week along with three larcenies) on that segment, the mayor noted.

Reed wants to avoid having the Beltline — an asset that has the potential to spur development and tie together intown neighborhoods — viewed as dangerous. If it is seen as a lure for criminals, it could suffer the same fate as the once-popular Underground, which has struggled after being associated with crime decades ago.

APD took a similar approach when it boosted police presence after high-profile robberies and shootings at Georgia Tech and Atlanta University Center put those campuses on edge.

The difference in the Beltline strategy is that a permanent force has been created instead of moving officers around to target hot spots. Reed said after the the federal grant terminates in three years, the city will fund the force.

He left open the possibility the city would dedicate even more officers once the Beltline is completed.

“The Atlanta Beltine is going to be safe,” Reed said. “We are going to do whatever we can in my administration to make it safe and keep it safe.”