Beltline gets its own police unit

What might be described as a fairly safe six-mile strip of land officially gets 15 of its own cops Friday.

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner and Mayor Kasim Reed plan to officially introduce the Path Force Unit, which gives the much-heralded Atlanta Beltline its own police force, at a Friday press conference.

The APD unit — funded by a $1.8 million federal grant — actually has been patrolling for the last month on the biking and pedestrian trail. The unit will replace other officers who have been assigned there to calm citizen fears after several high-profile crimes near the Beltline.

Thieves have robbed Beltline users of cellphones and money. Most recently Robert Phillips fended off two thieves who tried to steal his bicycle.

“The police got onto it pretty quickly,” said Kit Sutherland, president of the Fourth Ward Alliance, said of the crime uptick. “They did assign a new troop of officers and they are pretty vigilant. If I’m on the Beltline for 10 minutes, I will see either the mounted police or the police on bicycles.”

The corridor — a planned 22-mile loop of bicycle and pedestrian trails, parks and a hoped-for streetcar — is a priority development for the city.

APD Lt. Jeff Baxter, who heads up the Path Force Unit, said the new officers will be augmented by other APD patrol officers who still would keep an eye on the corridor’s parks; and he said mounted patrol also will work the area.

Asked this week for all robberies, assaults and larcenies that had occurred since the first segment opened in 2011, the APD produced 12 reports — six robberies, three larcenies, two assaults and one burglary of construction trailers .

All the crimes occurred on the completed 2.25 -mile leg Eastside Trail that runs from 10th street and Monroe Drive in upper Midtown to Irwin Street in the Old Fourth Ward , which opened in October. None was reported on the other two completed legs, a one-mile section of the Northside trail, which opened in 2010; or the 2.4-mile sector of West End trail, which so far has seen comparatively little use.

Makeda Johnson, co-chair of the MLK Merchants Association, said she thought the Beltline needed a heavier police presence because obviously criminals had targeted it as a new zone of opportunity. Johnson, who lives in Vine City on Atlanta’s poorer west side, noted the Beltline would eventually be coming through the neighboring Washington Park neighborhood.

“Whenever we have people being targeted, some action has to be taken,” she said. “I don’t ride bikes but my children ride bikes, and I would like them to be able to use the Beltline.”