Combine a shaky economy with rising gas prices, and law enforcement agencies start to scout out ways to save — many opting for greener vehicle alternatives.

Law enforcement has gone green in the past, using Segways during patrol. But Segways aren’t effective for high-speed pursuits or off-road expeditions. Now some departments are experimenting with electric motorcycles and scooters.

Electric Bike

Take the New York Police Department, for example, which in 2007 road tested four zero-emissions electric scooters to make its patrolling environmentally friendlier. In January, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department also ramped up its green initiative by adding seven electric scooters to patrol the Vegas strip.

And further west, the Scotts Valley, Calif., Police Department in November 2010 received a Zero DS electric motorcycle from Zero Motorcycles, located in neighboring Santa Cruz, Calif., as part of a redevelopment agency agreement, said City Manager Steve Ando. The partnership stipulated that the city would dole out $25,000 per year for three years to Zero Motorcycles — as a financial incentive for the company to remain and expand in the city. In exchange, the Police Department received the electric motorcycle, Ando said. As of March, Scotts Valley was the first and only government agency to pilot a Zero electric motorcycle, said company spokesman John Ewert.

The battery-operated, lightweight bike is highway legal and travels up to 50 miles on a single charge. Because of its silent operation — made possible by a lithium-ion battery rather than internal combustion, meaning there’s also no exhaust — police officers have better auditory cognizance of their surroundings, according to Zero Motorcycles.

The bike was outfitted with police decals, but the department won’t use it for high-speed chases and therefore didn’t affix sirens used for traffic enforcement.

Into the Woods

The department plans to use the motorcycle to patrol underdeveloped areas where it has received complaints about marijuana growing operations. Because the illegal plants often are tucked in hills off deer trails, the department’s traditional vehicles had limited or no access, said Lt. John Hohmann. “It’s very difficult to take a fully dressed motorcycle for traffic enforcement and go off-road; it just doesn’t work,” he said. “We’ve been trained to ride off-road, but it’s not ideal.”

The department required training for police officers to earn their M-1 motorcycle license. Training consisted of either a two-week Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) approved motorcycle course or a two-day POST-approved off-road motorcycle course. Four officers, including Hohmann, attended the two-week course, while two others took the two-day course.

As of March, the electric motorcycle hadn’t been used for any official policing activities. However, it likely will be used for public safety at special events, such as Scotts Valley’s annual Fourth of July parade. The department would eventually like to procure a second motorcycle, Hohmann said. “You don’t want to send somebody off by themselves,” he added. “We’d like to have an additional one so that if somebody is going up into the hills, off some deer trails where there are marijuana growers, you want to have an officer with them.”

Electric Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) electric scooters have seen more action. In January, the Consumer Electronics Association donated seven scooters from vendor Vectrix to the LVMPD as part of a “go green” initiative; now more than 10 trained officers use them to patrol Sin City.

Las Vegas Boulevard requires a major police presence, said LVMPD Capt. Todd Fasulo. “It’s one of the most dynamic and [most] difficult to police because of the venues we have.”

Training is completed within the department, Fasulo said, and includes instruction on acceleration, breaking, maneuvering, turning, off-road and on-road use, and wet and dry conditions.

Because the scooters maneuver easily through traffic, police officers can ride up and down the resort corridor even when traffic is backed up on the strip. Visibility is crucial for creating a safer environment, Fasulo said.

“If you drive down a roadway and you don’t see any cops, what do you think?” he asked. “You say, ‘There’s nobody around here paying any attention to the safety of the citizens or the tourists who are here.’ So part of our mission is to create a highly visible police presence up on Las Vegas Boulevard.”

Although Fasulo’s department doesn’t track cost comparisons for electricity versus gasoline use, he said the electric scooters are much more cost-effective than gas-powered vehicles because the department spends more than $1 million per month to fill its car and motorcycle tanks. To charge the scooters, officers can pull up to the nearest hotel and plug the scooter into a 110 volt socket, Fasulo said, which can be done on their lunch breaks.

Mixed Results?

Despite cost savings and convenience of the scooters, opinions on keeping them vary. Fasulo said some officers are excited about the environmentally friendly approach, while others feel that riding scooters could weaken their image.

“Cops want to ride Harleys — traditional motorcycles that most departments ride,” Fasulo said. “So when you start looking at these young cops out cruising Las Vegas Boulevard, the main thing they want to do is look like a cop — and some of them don’t think they look like a cop when they’re riding on a scooter.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer
Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.