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FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2007

Police to increase presence at popular site for off-roading

By Catherine Godbey 340-2441

Landowners hope the ringing of gunshots and damaging of private property in Southwest Decatur will end when Decatur police increase their presence in the area.

After years of complaints, police are taking further measures to stop off-road-vehicle devotees from using private property as their playground.


At a public meeting Thursday night, police outlined measures to better protect the area bordered by Auburn Drive, Danville Road, Modaus Road, Shady Grove Lane and Old Moulton Road.

Police Chief Ken Collier said, "Kids riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes is nothing new. ... What is different is the proliferation of four-wheelers and dirt bikes and more developments being built that encircle the area."

Police believe the criminal activity will be quelled by educating violators and adding new vehicles.

Collier and Lt. Nadis Carlisle, head of criminal investigations, said the violators are teenagers who use the land as a gathering area.

"We feel like most of these people are good citizens that are misunderstanding the law. ... The first thing we wanted to do was to make sure the people understand they're not welcome on the property," Collier said.

The plan to educate violators includes posting the trespassing laws on the property.

"The trespassing signs are posted all around," said Todd Etheredge, president of the City View Estates homeowners association. "The riders can see them whenever they enter the field."

Even though police and landowners post the trespassing laws, the violators don't necessarily read them.

"To my understanding," Collier said, "many of the signs have been taken down, torn down, moved and run over."

Word of mouth

Carlisle said police are also depending on the violators to spread the information to one another that off-roading on this property is illegal. "Everybody will know things are about to change because of word of mouth," Carlisle said.

According to Blaine Mardis, a homeowner, the word-of-mouth strategy is working. "I've noticed a decrease in activity this past week. ... Word is getting out that (police) are going to patrol the area," Mardis said.

"When we first learned of this problem, we had no capability of going in and doing enforcement," Collier said.

Police cruisers, which navigate paved roads easily, are no match for chasing off-road vehicles on undeveloped land. But now the department, which has purchased Yamaha dirt bikes and seized a Honda four-wheeler from a drug dealer, is able to actively pursue the violators.

"We moved money around the budget and were able to buy two bikes ... we have bids out for three others," Collier said. On Monday, the City Council will discuss bids for the three additional bikes.

Collier said the entire department will work together on the issue but the Anti-Crime Unit will undertake most of the responsibility. "These boys have been trained to do anything and now they'll get dusty," Carlisle said. He added that the Anti-Crime Unit will patrol the area as well as respond to calls. Carlisle reminded homeowners that "if you don't call, us we can't help you."

Brian Cagle, a homeowner and City View Estates board member, said, "The police department has been very responsive to our issues and we feel a lot will be solved with their help." Cagle and Mardis said the main issues that concern them are the gunshots and the setting of fires. "I have heard gun shots in the early afternoon, and I worry about a stray bullet, especially with my children playing outside," Cagle said.

The landowners are also appreciative to the police for their added presence. Dr. Patrick Crow, who owns more than 150 acres with his brother, Jim Crow, has seen his land damaged by the off-road vehicles. "We've been trying to put a stop to this for 20 years ... hopefully this will really make a difference," Dr. Crow said.

Collier shares Dr. Crow's optimism. "Between your guys and our guys we can fix this," he said.

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