It's hardly intimidating to see cops gliding along at 12.5 mph -- tops -- patrolling city streets on a Segway Personal Transporter. It looks more like a high-tech kids' toy than a law enforcement vehicle. But that's part of the allure.
More than 80 police departments nationwide are using the Segway because it gives them more mobility than a bike, saves gas, it's community-friendly and beats walking.
"They're very public-oriented," said Jerome Armijo, patrolman first class for the Albuquerque, N.M., police department. "People love to stop you and talk to you about it. It's a good public relations tool."
Armijo used to patrol downtown Albuquerque on foot and would be exhausted midway through his 10-hour shift on most days. The Segway lets him respond to calls all over the downtown area easily and more quickly without getting tired.
"The area I cover is big, and being on foot all the time and going from one side of downtown to the other, you get worn out," he said. "With the Segway, during peak hours you can respond to calls on both sides of downtown and not get as tired."
In Virginia, the Arlington County Sheriff's Department delivers 25 to 30 documents -- including subpoenas, motions and writs -- for the county courthouse every day.
Subpoenas in particular take a lot of time and energy to deliver. Two deputies had to drive the subpoenas to each address, exit the car, enter the building and deliver the document. Now the deputies take a different approach -- they simply attach the Segway to the back of the patrol car, go to a general area where subpoenas need to be delivered, hop on the Segway and deliver all the documents.
The Segway gets recharged once each night, and can cover about 25 miles a day.
Not Just for Cops
Police officers aren't the only ones getting on the Segway bandwagon.
In Chicago, weekly events fill the streets with as many as 1 million people, which made it tough for medics, hauling their equipment, to reach injured citizens. The Segway lets paramedics with the Chicago Fire Department maneuver around throngs of people more easily than with an ambulance.
The department successfully tried a few machines and decided to create specialized Advanced Life Support (ALS) teams for the city. ALS teams now patrol downtown streets every day and monitor radio frequencies for fire and emergency medical services, knowing they can get there before an ambulance or fire truck.
Oftentimes the ALS team -- two paramedics riding Segways with a full array of equipment -- arrives on the scene before the ambulance or other first responders. In summer 2006, a man suffered a heart attack in downtown Chicago during a difficult time of day for an ambulance to get in and out of the area. However, a Segway team made it to the man in a few minutes. They found him unresponsive, but resuscitated him with a defibrillator and stabilized him before an ambulance arrived.
For both the Chicago paramedics and the Albuquerque police, the Segway offers quick and easy access through crowded areas. Unlike a bike, which requires the rider to hunch over, the Segway lets the driver stand eight inches taller to get a better view of crowds, down streets and into businesses. The driver merely leans forward to make the Segway go forward, and to one side or the other to make it turn. Leaning slightly backward will stop the Segway.
"On the Segway, the paramedics are higher than the crowd," said Mark Linse, deputy chief paramedic for the Chicago Fire Department. "They are actually above the crowd and can see through the crowd better."
In addition, police on college campuses -- such as Duke in North Carolina, Drexel