Hopkinsville Chief of Police Guy Howie sat down with Publisher Taylor W. Hayes, Editor Eli Pace and Opinion Editor Jennifer P. Brown of the New Era’s editorial board to talk about the rail-trail project and how it relates to crime and public safety.
Brown: When you were working for the police department in Ocala, Fla., they had some recreational trails there. Based on that experience, what do you know about rail-trials and green spaces in terms of safety that will help when Hopkinsville opens up its rail-trail?
Howie: When I first got here, the mayor put me on a board to look at it as a recommendation, and I really started delving into it. 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. Wisconsin has a huge one that people come from all over the country to ride this trail on bikes. There’s one in Florida that is 40 miles long. 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. …
There is always the possibility of a crime occurring anywhere. 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.
Most crimes are a crime of opportunity. Who’s going to rob a jogger? What do they have on them, an iPhone? It just doesn’t jive with me. Any time you improve something for the betterment of the community, and we have such a large group here that wants it to be successful, I don’t think they’re going to let it become unsuccessful.
Brown: One of the most frequent concerns that have been raised is this corridor will somehow provide access for criminals, particularly burglars. 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. It’s unimproved. It’s overgrown to some extent. 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.
Hayes: In all of your research did you find anything that not just dispels this concern but that it actually improves property values?
Howie: Yes, 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.
Hayes: Have you had the opportunity to speak with other community leaders in Kentucky that have these trails?
Howie: 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.
Hayes: If there is trouble, what tends to be the kind of trouble?
Howie: Teenagers hanging out, not utilizing the trail, loitering. That was pretty much it. 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.
Hayes: What plans do you have for officers to patrol the path?
Howie: You know, we have Segways. We have a Polaris (all-terrain vehicle). We have bikes, and we’re going to dedicate people to patrol that on a regular basis. … I wouldn’t mind seeing them put an emergency phone there. I wouldn’t mind seeing some cameras in certain locations. I’ve ridden the whole trail several times. There’s one spot where it goes under an overpass. I want to see some good lighting and maybe a camera there. We need to make sure it’s designed in a way that promotes crime prevention.
Hayes: Is it something that would be patrolled daily?
Howie: Yes, we would have regular patrols through that area. In the spring and summer time, we’ll probably have officers on bikes riding through it. The motor officers can drive down it. It’s my understanding it’s going to be big enough we can get an ambulance down it if need be, so certainly a police car can drive down through there. That would be a high-priority patrol area, just like we do with our parks now.
Brown: How many bicycles and Segways does the police department have?
Howie: About 10 or 11 bicycles, two Segways and a Polaris.
Pace: With the parks we currently have, is vandalism a problem?
Howie: Yeah, North Drive has had some recent problems. We captured the suspects on video. There is some surveillance there. I wouldn’t mind seeing the city as a whole become more tech savvy as it relates to public safety with cameras. I know that there would be a privacy concern, but you don’t have an expectation of privacy when you’re in a public park.
Hayes: Or when you walk into a store.
Pace: It’s tough to argue with video tape, too.
Brown: How many of the city’s parks have surveillance cameras?
Howie: I think just two right now. DeBow Park with the soccer field and concessions stand, and Tie-Breaker Park — only those facilities that have larger assets.
Pace: I heard you mention hours of operation for the rail-trial. Would that be something that the city would enforce or would that just be advisory?
Howie: 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.
Pace: Do you think the trail would be something that officers would use in their free time?
Howie: Absolutely. I have several guys that like to run. … 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. You have recreational activities for people to do to improve their health. It brings in outside folks for runs and jogs. 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.
There are just some neighborhoods that aren’t conducive to that, but a dad could take his kid to the trail and teach his kid how to ride a bike. 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.