Juneau police first to try out Segway scooters

Posted: Friday, August 08, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The Juneau Police Department is the first in Alaska to send some officers out on futuristic Segway Human Transporter vehicles.

Other police departments in Alaska eventually will try out the battery-operated, two-wheel scooters as part of a National Institute of Justice program.

Assistant Juneau Police Chief Greg Browning said the department will provide a consumer report of sorts for law enforcement agencies.

''We feel it could conceivably be a good community policing tool,'' he told the Juneau Empire.

The 10 officers, who normally would be assigned to bike or foot patrols, were scheduled for four hours of training on the device Friday. The officers are scheduled to begin working with them downtown Aug. 15.

Both the training and the $5,000 machines will be provided to the Juneau Police Department at no charge through the Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-Northwest, based in Anchorage. The scooters will be returned at the end of the experiment in October, Browning said.

Juneau police will then decide whether they want to buy their own for permanent use.

The scooters can reach top speeds of about 12.5 mph, but ''typically we wouldn't run them at that,'' Browning said.

Segways have been tried out in some larger cities, including New York, Atlanta and San Francisco.

Browning said that in addition to downtown patrols, he envisions Segways being useful for school patrols, parking enforcement and some tactical operations. There also is a possibility of using the Segways for bomb squad work.

The Anchorage Police Department is interested, even though police consider the Segways to be illegal on sidewalks, bike paths, recreation trails or streets within the city.

An Anchorage police captain has undergone some Segway training. The department's spokesman, Ron McGee, said there is talk of maybe using Segways for bomb squads.

Alaska State Troopers plan to try a Segway at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, patrolling the fairgrounds and the parking lot, said Bruce Richter, program manager for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Center Northwest in Anchorage. The center, part of the National Institute of Justice, has three Segways for Alaska law enforcement to use for free.

Segways are a much-hyped invention just starting to become widely available. Riders stand and grip handlebars as they glide along on two big wheels. The device balances through a tilt sensor and gyroscope. When a rider leans slightly forward, it goes faster. It slows to a halt when the rider leans back.

Juneau is considered a good Segway testing ground. Downtown Juneau can be a congested chaos of cars and pedestrians in the summertime, with more than 8,000 cruise ship tourists alone packed into just a few narrow streets on some days.

''When you get multiple cruise ships, there is the difficulty of getting places and responding to incidents like a senior citizen having a heart attack,'' Richter told the Anchorage Daily News.

Juneau also has environmental challenges for the Segways. It rains a lot. And the town, crammed between the mountains and the sea, is full of steep and narrow streets.

After Juneau finishes its test, the law enforcement center will loan the scooters to another Alaska police department.

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