By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

Officer Burrell and Officer Elizardo Rodriguez Jr. (left) go for a ride in The Prado parking lot.

Sandy Springs police have added a green Yamaha Rhino to its fleet of patrol cars.

Police now can navigate more of the city. The all-terrain vehicle gives officers the ability to traipse through tight spots and along rocky roads or through the woods.

“We can go where cars can’t go,” Officer Tim Burrell said April 14 as he drove down a steep embankment behind the police headquarters on Barfield Road. “This is a great thing that the citizens of Sandy Springs have.”

And it’s fun, he said.

“I grew up on these,” Burrell said, recounting his childhood in Doraville. “We are out here having fun, but we are still fighting crime.”

More arrests are made per hour on an ATV than in a patrol car, according to Deputy Police Chief Kenneth DeSimone.

The Sandy Springs department was inspired to buy the Rhino after seeing how successful the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police in North Carolina had been with one, Deputy Chief DeSimone said. The Rhino was purchased in November for around $15,000, Burrell said.

“We can patrol on this. It’s a marked unit,” said Officer Burrell, flipping a small switch in the console that triggered the vehicle’s blue lights. The ATV is labeled with Sandy Springs Police decals on its sides, hood and rear.

Sandy Springs Police Officer Tim Burrell drives the department’s new ATV behind police headquarters.

The Rhino is useful for patrolling locations such as Northwood Drive and Roswell Road just south of I-285.

That area is popular area for day laborers to solicit for employment on street corners. Last year, the Sandy Springs City Council approved an ordinance that limits the activity. It restricts loitering on private property and soliciting adjacent to highway exit ramps. The ordinance makes it illegal for motorists to stop in a lane or pull into right of way to pick up a day laborer.

Burrell said people soliciting for employment have been hit by cars. Others have become victims of robberies when picked up by strangers for jobs.

“I’m amazed how receptive people are to it,” said Officer Elizardo Rodriguez Jr., who rides on the ATV with Burrell two to three times a week.

“We want you to be in a safe area so you can work,” Burrell said.

Rodriguez said when a patrol car drives by, day laborers walk away from roadways. But when they hear the buzz of the Rhino, those same job seekers run to nearby shopping centers or apartment complexes.

“They know this thing down here,” Burrell said after he parked in the Dover Square Shopping Center off Northwood Drive. He had just scared three people off the sidewalk. “They fear the Rhino. When they see us, they start moving out of the way.”

He said officers give warnings to those soliciting employment on the roadside and encourage them to wait for work at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church’s Solidarity Mission. A trailer located on Northwood Drive serves as an employment center where day laborers can register for available work and take classes to improve job skills.

Officer Burrell patrols a shopping center off Northwood Drive.

“After so many warnings, we do place them under arrest,” Burrell said.

The Rhino also can aid emergency responders in wooded areas. The four-wheel-drive vehicle can accommodate a person on a stretcher.

The Rhino also can maneuver into tight spaces if officers are involved in a chase.

But perhaps the best thing about the Rhino is the response from kids, Burrell said.

“The kids love this,” he said as he winded along the sidewalks and crossed the creek at Allen Park off Allen Road. A toddler at the playground was mesmerized at the sight, but reluctant to come over when invited. An older girl on a swing was all smiles.

“We take this to schools,” Officer Burrell said. “They love climbing all over it. It’s a cool toy.”