Addison’s Segways: Police Get a Greener Way to Roll
By Bill Sullivan
It’s another night on the beat in Addison, and Officer Michael Murphy is getting ready for work. But, instead of checking out a squad car and patrolling the streets, Murphy straps on a helmet, climbs aboard a Segway “personal transporter,” and is off to survey the scene in nearby Addison Circle Park.
In a matter of minutes, he pursues a pair of scofflaw skateboarders, answers a few questions about his curious mode of transportation from a passerby, and engages two small children in a quick race: All in a different kind of night’s work aboard a vehicle on the cutting edge of law enforcement.
“It’s a great conversation starter,” Murphy says. “It removes the barrier about approachable police.
“People want to talk about it. I tell the story about a hundred times a day.”
From all kinds of angles – environment, cost, and effective enforcement – Segways on patrol seems like a good story to tell.
The device – a stand-up, two-wheel computer-based creature controlled by a handlebar and body English — goes where no squad car has gone before…or ever will. It has proved effective at large events, allowing officers to maneuver seamlessly through crowds, while the added height allows them to spot problems more easily. Keeping track of things in restaurants, retail establishments, apartments and garages also is made easier by the Segway’s size and versatility.
Since it runs on electricity, it’s more environmentally friendly than squad cars or motorcycles. It’s quiet, too – all the better to get the drop on the bad guys.
And, there are other occasions where getting off the main road can give an officer an edge.
“I found a runaway child one time,” Murphy recalled. “All of our units were rolling on the streets. The kid was hiding in the bushes along a car part. I just rolled right up to him over the grass.”
Addison Police Chief Ron Davis also is a fan of the new technology.
“(Segways) allow officers the mobility to patrol in places that they otherwise would not have access to unless they got out of their cars and walked, “ he said. “An example would be a jogging trail. Officers can cover a lot more area on a Segway and return quickly to their car if needed to respond to a call.”
The Segway tops out at about 12 ½ miles per hour, fast enough to track down someone attempting to flee on foot. A fully charged battery provides 8-9 hours of use. The vehicles can be used in the rain, but often are deployed indoors in bad weather.
According to the manufacturer, “more than 1,000 municipalities, airports, military bases, private security firms, emergency response brigades and other public and private safety organizations” already use the Segway to enhance their efforts. Locally, DFW Airport, Love Field, SMU and the Plano and Dallas Police Departments use them.
Chief Davis estimates the cost of the police version at $6,500-$7,000 per unit. The department recoups much of that upfront expense in fuel savings when the Segways take the place of squad cars or motorcycles. Reducing enforcement’s carbon footprint is yet another plus.
How does it work? To move the Segway forward or backward, the rider simply leans slightly in that direction. To turn left or right, the rider moves the frame left or right. An onboard balance computer reads the rider’s movement and adjusts accordingly.
Sounds simple, and for most folks, it is — particularly those with a good center of gravity. For taller riders, the adjustment is more of a challenge, and the total weight of rider and clothes or equipment cannot exceed 260 pounds.
Addison Police first tried out a borrowed Segway for Taste Addison a few years ago. The experiment convinced the department to pursue acquiring two of its own. These days, one is based at the Addison Circle storefront, while the other rolls out of the Target storefront.
While some officers were skeptical at first, the Segway has won many of them over. After starting with a handful of riders, about 20 now spend at least part of their shift on the device.
“It takes about 30 seconds to get on top of it,” Murphy said. “After that, it’s just building up the nerve and what you feel comfortable with.
“The Segway is user-friendly. I tell people its cop-proof. If we can use it, anyone can.”
When not in service, the Segway is charging for its next assignment, plugged in to an electrical outlet at the police station. On a typical 12-hour shift, Murphy estimates that he uses the Segway for two or three hours.
“We run these cars literally 24 hours a day,” he says. “If I can get out of the vehicle for two or three hours, that saves a huge amount of money.”
Part of the public curiosity, Murphy says, is the environmental advantage of the Segway. No fossil fuels burned. No emissions. No noise.
“It’s becoming more popular. People are cognizant of carbon footprint and things of that nature.”
Still, the sight of a police officer tooling around on a stand-up, two-wheeled transporter has required some adjustment all around. Occasionally, that calls for a sense of humor on the part of the patrolman in question.
“People say, ‘Oh, there’s the Mall Cop,’” Murphy says. “It’s just part of the fun. “