IN PRINT: Perceived linkage between greenway and crime proves hollow

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by Jordan Green

The area around part of High Point Greenway has its share of crime, but there’s no evidence that it can be tied to the greenway itself.

High Point residents maintain an ambiguous relationship with their 9-mile greenway system, which provides access to recreation and natural beauty, but also inspires fears about crime.

Most of the vexation centers on the central section of the system, known as High Point Greenway, which begins at Armstrong Park and runs eastward through the campus of High Point University before turning north along a creek known as Boulding Branch and passing by Andrews High School and Welborn Middle School. It’s the section north of the university near the two public schools that causes the most concern.

Amanda Eller, a teacher at Johnson Street Global Studies school in High Point, said she has been cautioned about using the greenway in the area of Andrews High School by both her students and the police. Eller runs on the greenway after school with a group of students and teachers who train for 5K races under the moniker of Go Out For a Run, or GOFAR. They stick mostly to the section between Armstrong Park and the university, Eller said, although her reasons for avoiding the Andrews High School area have more to do with steering clear of personal entanglements with parents in a neighborhood where many of her students live than concerns about public safety. The notion that the greenway is unsafe was underscored most distinctly to Eller during a presentation made by High Point police Detective Evelyn Dockery. Eller recalled that Dockery told the sorority: “Don’t go to the section at Andrews because there’s a lot of gang activity and you don’t want to get involved.”

Dockery said she doesn’t recall specifically cautioning anyone to avoid that part of the greenway. “We have incidents that take place there,” she said. “But is it enough for me to say, ‘Oh, don’t go there?’ I don’t think so. If you want to fight it might be a safer place to fight because it’s out of sight, but as far as random acts of violence I wouldn’t be concerned about that.”

Dockery added that she urges people to exercise caution everywhere.

A comment by Eller about perceived public safety on the greenway based on Dockery’s presentation on a Facebook thread last November caught the attention of Steve Hollingsworth, who owns Green Door Wheel Works on English Road. Hollingsworth regularly hosts group rides to encourage cycling and community engagement, and advocates cycling-friendly transportation changes to city officials. Hollingsworth questioned whether the reports of criminal activity on the greenway were based on real events or unsubstantiated fears. He reached out to Dockery and requested statistics on crimes associated with the greenway. Dockery forwarded Hollingsworth’s email to Judy Brenner, the department’s crime analyst. Brenner, in turn, emailed Hollingsworth a spreadsheet and map entitled “Offenses along the Greenway.” Rather than establish that the greenway is a magnet for crime, Hollingsworth said the document only reinforced his conviction that the trails are safe.

“Basically, there are people who have this perception that the greenways are a war zone, and the other half that have never heard that,” he said. “I’ve got the crime reports. They report crimes that happen in schools nearby, but not on the greenway. I have a lot of questions but not a lot of answers.”

Hollingsworth said he pulled the incident reports from the police department’s P2C website for each of the 92 offenses reported near the greenway between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17, 2013. Of those, 21 were reported at the address for Welborn Middle School.

“I can’t find any news reports about crimes being committed on the High Point greenways,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s always somebody heard about somebody who got harassed. I’ve never talked to persons who had been attacked. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. In my research I haven’t found anything but anecdotes. If you look at the crime reports you’ll see that there’s not any crimes on the greenway in the past year.”

In requesting the crime statistics, Hollingsworth told Detective Dockery: “I would love to show people a correlation between [greenway] usage and lower crime rate, and this information would be very helpful to me. What is your opinion of our greenway? I want to do more group rides there but I want to be sure that it is as safe as I perceive it to be.”

Hollingsworth said the only response he received from the police department was the map and spreadsheet. Dockery could not be reached by phone or email for this story.

Among 10 incident reports randomly pulled by Triad City Beat for offenses compiled by the police department, none allege crimes either committed on the greenway or involving suspects who used it in the commission of crimes. The incidents range from a report of a student threatening a teacher at Welborn Middle School to an allegation that insurance fraud was committed in the aftermath of an automobile crash. One incident reports a man assaulting a woman with a machete at a residence while another involves a man who told police that his ex-girlfriend struck him with a car.

“Every time I’m riding on the greenway I always see African Americans, Hispanics, Asian people and Caucasians — people of every race and color and economic status,” Hollingsworth said. “I’ve never seen anything but smiles. That’s one thing I really like about the greenway: There’s a diverse user group, and they’re really nice.”

Eller said her experiences on the greenway west of High Point University have also been positive. As someone who has lived in High Point for 11 years, Eller said the city is a study in contrasts between the very wealthy and very poor, which can cause discomfort.

“From looking at the crime reports over the last year and my own personal experience using it over the last year, my response is that it’s completely safe and I want people to keep using it,” Hollingsworth said. “My opinion is not only based on the stats. I was a military police officer. When I see that, my reaction is not to be afraid. My reaction is that the people in the neighborhood need some program to deal with their inter-personal issues.”

A review by Triad City Beat of more recent offenses committed near the greenway over the past three months also failed to turn up any direct reference to the greenway as either the site or cause of crimes. The incident reports detail reports of a fight, a student with a knife, an iPad theft and stolen license plate at Andrews High School; an eighth-grader using profanity at Welborn Middle School; and a High Point University student losing her cell phone while taking a taxi back to campus from Greene Street Club in Greensboro.

“It is in a location where a lot of crime happens,” Eller said. “I think a lot of the crime would have happened whether there was a greenway or not.”