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Former Atlanta police officer takes shot at Beltline safety

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“Running from would-be attackers is actually very good for the cardio,” retired cop quips

People walk and bike on the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail.
Brave Beltline patrons.
Curbed Atlanta

Police presence on the Atlanta Beltline is like sports refereeing: If you’re not reading about it, that’s a good thing.

The Beltline’s Eastside Trail has been open for more than four years, hosting millions upon millions of exercisers, commuters, sightseeing tourists, bar-crawlers, and more. Most would agree it’s a relatively safe place—and police stats bear that out—though the occasional shocking crime does make headlines.

However, a former Atlanta Police Department officer who has experience patrolling near the Eastside Trail and unfinished Beltline sections paints a different picture.

Now retired from APD, W.J. Butcher pens (sometimes controversial) columns for The Newnan Times-Herald. In a missive this week titled “Walking trails have costs besides the upfront ones,” he decries a proposed Newnan greenway that could cost more than $800,000 per mile. Better sidewalks, he argues, would be a more prudent investment.

But to emphasize the downside of multi-use paths for the good people of Coweta County, Butcher describes the Beltline as a sort of inaccessible danger zone. He posits that the Beltline’s “one positive outcome” was a spike in adjacent property values “due to the perceived notion that it was safe and convenient for exercise,” he writes. “True enough, running from would-be attackers is actually very good for the cardio.”

Butcher worked a beat in Poncey-Highland as the Beltline was built and a special police unit formed to keep watch on the former (and current) railroad beds. This is his recollection:

“The police department shifted designated bike patrols to the 22-mile [Beltline], but ambulances and fire trucks could not gain access due to the remote and limited nature of the trails. Robberies and assaults occurred to pedestrians, and the apprehension of perpetrators was nearly impossible due to the easy escape routes off the trails. Restaurants adjacent to the Beltline required police presence at closing times due to likely assaults to restaurant workers.”

Anecdotally, bad things have happened on the Beltline and vicinity in recent years. Atlanta isn’t antiseptic Mayberry, after all.

Curbed Atlanta

Last fall, for instance, Inman Park residents were on edge after two men ambushed and robbed workers at the popular Barcelona Wine Bar before closing time. In the wake of that incident, police advised businesses in the area to be on guard—and to not follow predicable patterns of entering and exiting buildings at night.

Then, last month, four women were robbed at gunpoint on the Beltline shortly after midnight while leaving Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall. Both suspect were armed, and one fired a shot as they ran away toward Krog Street Market, police said.

In reaction to that crime, Atlanta police officials told the Atlanta Loop website the Beltline’s PATH Force has responded to just over a dozen crimes in the three and 12 years since it’d been created. January’s robbery was the first on the Beltline since 2015—a crime for which the perpetrators were arrested and convicted, police said.

Last year alone, the Beltline logged more than 1.7 million visitors. And it doesn’t sound like too many of them, despite Butcher’s input, were running for their lives.