That a new trail will bring crime to an area and increase public safety concerns is an often-used objection to trail projects, particularly in communities without relevant examples close by. However, a mountain of experiential and recorded evidence in fact demonstrates the opposite - that public pathways bring activity, ownership and care to areas once abandoned and neglected, and provide a deterrent to crime and anti-social behavior.
Nevertheless, opponents of trails, biking and walking continue to use this disproved red herring to block trails that have the potential to greatly improve their community.
So it was great to see the Kentucky New Era newspaper tackle the issue head on. As the community of Hopkinsville in southeast Kentucky pursues its rail-trail ambitions, the New Era editorial board decided to respond to concerns about crime and safety by going to straight to an expert. This week the paper conducted and published a discussion on trails, crime and safety with Hopkinsville Chief of Police Guy Howie, who had experience with trails relationship to crime during his time with the police department in Ocala, Fla.
His comments will not surprise those who have experienced the impact of public pathways in their community, and echoes that of other law enforcement officers interviewed about the connection of crime to local trails. The full story online requires a subscription to view, so here's a sampling of Chief Howie's responses:
"What's there now, it's already being used by some for both legal and illegal purposes. Once we improve that and it's being utilized by law-abiding citizens, and it's maintained and kept up, the people who are using it for illegal purposes now aren't going to want to stay because they don't want to be discovered."
"Every place that we looked or I talked about, or had personal knowledge of, any time those facilities are used, there's generally not a problem. Nowhere could we find where crime went up along those areas to any significant extent. ... There are projects like this all across the country. Nobody has come up with any research that we're aware of to the contrary, or to the negative. It's just a perception, and where it comes from, I don't know."
KNE: "Do you think people who have property that abuts the trail should be concerned?" Howie: "No. I think they should be ecstatic. Right now, it's already being used by those people. ... It's deserted and that's why they're using it. If I owned a piece of property and it backed up to the rail-trail, I would be excited that it's going to be improved."
"There is evidence out there that shows things like this improve property values. I know the one in Spring Field, Tenn., it improved the property values there."
"I did talk to Greenville's chief of police, and he said they've had little to no issues with the one that runs from Greenville to Central City."
"I'd actually like to see it in an ordinance, that the trial is closed from dusk till dawn, unless there's a special event and it's monitored."
"I think some of the bigger cities, and I like to compare Hopkinsville to a small city with some big-city problems at times, I think there's probably a concern about sexual assaults. Again, how do you defeat that? Well, you use it. You have hours of operation for the trail. You don't go out for a walk at midnight, or you don't go for a jog at 9 o'clock at night after dark. You make sure the trail is monitored and that it's accessible enough for police to get down it."
"I think the more recreational opportunities that a community can offer to the public, the healthier the community becomes. If you have activities for kids to do, they are able to do that instead of hanging out and getting in trouble. Where can a dad in some of these neighborhoods teach his kid to ride a bike? I certainly couldn't do it on Remington Road with the way some of those cars come through there. People could go for a walk and not have to worry about traffic. I just think it would help the overall health and welfare of the community and improve the quality of life."