DMF and APD: Partnering to Improve BeltLine Safety

Longtime VaHi Business Provides Training Facilities for APD’s New BeltLine Path Force Bicycle Patrol

APD’s new BeltLine Path Force Bicycle Patrol trainees head out for a ride on the Eastside Trail.

OK, all you Virginia-Highland experts out there, raise your hands if you’re familiar with Diversified Metal Fabricators.

Now, all of you who had to Google the company’s name, put those hands down.

For VaHi residents not familiar with DMF, the company’s offices (which come with a spectacular view of the Midtown skyline, by the way) are located on Pylant Street. Pylant runs between Ponce de Leon Place and the new BeltLine Eastside Trail just east of Midtown Promenade.

With forty-two employees, DMF is possibly the largest single employer in Virginia-Highland. The company has an impressive manufacturing facility on Pylant where they fabricate a variety of solutions for the railroad maintenance industry (more on that in a minute).

More importantly, the company has a large parking lot and good-sized conference room with multi-media capabilities, both of which made DMF the ideal candidate to provide much-needed training facilities for the Atlanta Police Department’s new 15-man BeltLine Path Force Bicycle Patrol Unit.

Lt. Jeffery Baxter is the new unit’s commander. He spent the past year or so seeking funding for the unit and finding officers to man it.

“Last year we were fortunate to receive a $1.8 million U.S. Justice Department grant to fund salaries for officers in the new unit,” Baxter says.

A key requirement of the funding, though, was that the new officers had to be post-9/11 military veterans. In order to meet the requirement and still provide experienced officers for the new Path Force, the APD hired fifteen brand new officers who were veterans, then promoted existing officers – also veterans – to the new unit.

“All of our Path Force officers are military veterans with plenty of important APD experience,” Baxter says. “It was important for us to not only meet the requirements of the funding program but to provide citizens using the BeltLine with veteran officers to protect them.”

[Scroll down to read an interview with new Path Force Officer Hayden Butler to get his thoughts on his training and new assignment. Scroll to the bottom of the article for a link to an online album with photos of the unit’s training.]

Baxter says many of the new Path Force officers have bicycle experience, but others had never patrolled on two wheels before.

“We knew we needed to provide a comprehensive bicycle patrol training program,” Baxter says, “but we didn’t have a place to do it.”

Baxter reached out to Virginia-Highland neighborhood safety watch captain John Wolfinger for help.

“We knew John had connections in the area and felt he could help us find the right place to do the training,” Baxter says.

“I checked first with Ponce City Market,” Wolfinger says, “but their conference room is being converted to another use and was unavailable.”

Wolfinger also checked with Paris on Ponce – which is providing other support services for APD officers patrolling the BeltLine – but the group was larger than they could accommodate.

“Then, I thought of DMF,” Wolfinger says. “I knew they’d be the perfect choice if the facilities were available.”

Wolfinger checked with DMF president Danielle Brooks who was more than happy to provide the available facilities. [Scroll down to read an interview with Brooks on her thoughts about providing a place for the officers to train.]

Training was held the week of June 17 with graduation last Friday. The officers began actively patrolling the BeltLine this week.

Baxter says trail users will see an immediate, noticeable difference.

“Anyone using the BeltLline should begin to see the new Path Force officers out patrolling,” Baxter says. “The visibility alone will be a huge crime deterrent.”

What’s next for the Path Force?

“In addition to the active bicycle patrol,” Baxter says, “we want to implement a trail watch program where residents who live near sections of the BeltLine can become trained observers and assist the APD in keeping crime on their part of the trail to a minimum.”

“We’re also planning to start additional community outreach programs in the near future to put is in even closer contact with the residents we serve,” Baxter says.

“You’re definitely going to see more of us out on the BeltLine,” he says, “not less.”

And that can only be a good thing.

APD Path Force Officer Hayden Butler

Interview with APD Path Force Officer Hayden Butler

29-year old Officer Hayden Butler has been with the APD for two years. He took a break from his training last week to share his thoughts on his new assignment with The Voice.

Q: What was your assignment before the new BeltLine patrol?

A: I was on uniform patrol, day watch, in Zone 3.

Q: How did you hear about this opportunity and why did you volunteer for the assignment?

A: I responded to a citywide call for officers who were post-9/11 military veterans to fill fifteen open positions on the new BeltLine bicycle patrol. Having served two and a half tours with the Marines in Iraq, I was qualified. I consider myself a very proactive officer and saw this is as a great opportunity to get directly involved with the community while also providing an important public safety service. The BeltLine’s an important part of development in Atlanta and, if there are people using it who are victims of crime, I wanted to be a part of doing something about that. I like to get out and catch the bad guys and felt this would be the best possible opportunity to do that.

Q: Tell us about the training you’re receiving and when we can expect to see the new unit patrolling the BeltLine.

A: This week we’re getting classroom training in the morning, with bicycle training and drills in the parking lot afterward. Then, we’re getting out on the BeltLine to familiarize ourselves with the area we’ll be patrolling and also continue our bicycle training. In addition to learning the tactics of patrolling on two wheels, we’re learning about bicycle safety – our own and that of the citizens we’ll be protecting. We expect to complete training this week and our unit should begin active patrolling of the BeltLine next week.

Q: What will your unit’s coverage of the BeltLine look like?

A: The Path Force Unit is specifically designed to actively police the entire BeltLine and watch the backs back of everyone using it. This includes both the trails that are open today and those that open in the future, and includes not only the BeltLine itself but also the streets and intersections immediately adjacent to it. We’ll be responding to any type of reported crime in these areas. As the program matures we’ll also be responsible for patrolling the parks and spur trails along the BeltLine. We’ll be all over the city and we envision the force growing in size as our coverage area expands.

Q: What’s your experience patrolling on two wheels and what are your thoughts about patrolling on a bicycle?

A: While some of the officers in the unit have experience patrolling on bicycle, it’s new for me, and I think it’s awesome. Getting us out of the patrol cars and onto bicycles really expands our ability to actively engage citizens in the fight against crime. This is more of a quiet, stealth-type of policing and being on bicycles lets us ‘see, hear and smell’ better than we can in a patrol car. We can respond more quickly and get to more places than we can in our cruisers and our ability to track down and capture a suspect on foot is greatly increased. It’s environmentally friendly and great exercise so you just can’t beat it for this type of patrolling.

Danielle Brooks on left, shown with John Wolfinger and DMF’s Lindsey De Santos

Interview with DMF President Danielle Brooks

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about DMF? What you do, how long in business, connections to the neighborhood?

A: My father, Doug Davis, started the business in 1972. The offices were originally downtown but in 1982 DMF moved to the current site of the Midtown Connection shopping center (where New York Butcher Shoppe is located). We moved to our current location in 1986 when that shopping center was developed. DMF is a metal manufacturer that makes products for the railroad maintenance industry. Basically, we adapt highway vehicles to run both on the road and on railroad tracks. If you’ve ever seen an otherwise road-worthy dump truck with a serious undercarriage and some large metal wheels on it riding down the railroad tracks, there’s a good chance it came from DMF. And I’m definitely a local girl, having grown up in Morningside where I still live (although not in the same house).

Q: Your business is located just off the BeltLine. How has this close proximity impacted DMF so far?

A: As a manufacturer, the impact of the BeltLine’s proximity to us isn’t the same as if we were a retail business. Pylant Street has no access to the BeltLine so we don’t anticipate, nor have we really seen, an increase in the number of cars parked along the street. Drewry Street has an “unofficial” access point to the BeltLine, but again we have not had any parking issues because the street doesn’t really have additional parking available. We have noticed a few people walking down Drewry to access the BeltLine, but since there is an “official” access point one block up on Greenwood, I don’t think we’ll see the foot traffic increase more than what we are currently seeing. We have a great view of the trail from the rear of our building and we’ve been fascinated watching the increase in people using the trail for walking, running, bike riding and all sorts of fun things.

Q: How did it come about that DMF offered to let the APD use its facilities for classroom training for the new bicycle patrol officers?

A: I received an email from John Wolfinger about the need. The APD had reached out to him, needing a place to host training for these officers. They needed a conference room where they could use different media to educate the officers, and they also needed a parking lot where they could set up the cones for their training course. It just so happens we have both and they were available so it was a no-brainer for us to help out. As a neighborhood business, we’re always looking for ways to give back to the community and we saw this as an excellent chance to do just that. We’ve seen the APD’s mounted patrol operating along the BeltLine and it seems like having more officers patrolling on bicycle will increase public safety and we’re definitely supportive of that. Our employees are starting to use the BeltLine on an increasing basis so we’re in favor of anything that makes the trail safer for anyone using it. When the BeltLine first opened we were uncertain of how it would impact everyone, but now we see just how transformational this project can be. We were thrilled to help out to make the BeltLine a safer place for everyone.

Click here to view an album of photos of the Path Force training at DMF and on the BeltLine.

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