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December 25, 2007

New Rochelle cops zip around downtown on new Segways



(Original publication: December 14, 2007)

NEW ROCHELLE - Four police officers zipped around Memorial Plaza yesterday, each balanced on a two-wheeled platform that rushed forward with a lean and turned with a tilt.

News NR POs on Segways.JPGThey were showing off the force's newest tool for keeping the peace downtown: Segway "personal transporters." Designed to move as an extension of the user's body, a Segway can glide along at up to 12.5 mph - three or four times as fast as an adult walks - and can turn in place.

It can help a crime-fighter patrol the area, "making the officer very visible, standing out in the crowd and able to see people down the block," Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll said at an event to show off the devices.

The Segways, which cost between $5,000 and $6,000 each, were donated by the New Rochelle Police Foundation, the New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District, developer Louis Cappelli and United Hebrew Geriatric Center.

"It might be tempting to think of these as toys for grownups," Mayor Noam Bramson said. But he said the Segways would be useful in the city's commitment to making sure downtown remains safe, helping make officers "as mobile as possible (and) as visible as possible."

On a Segway, an officer has a head up over pedestrians, standing on a platform some 8 inches off the ground, and the transporter is unusual enough to spark conversation, helping an officer build rapport with people downtown, officials said. An officer who must leave the Segway to, for instance, chase a suspect down a flight of stairs can pull out a key that renders the device useless to anyone else, police said.

The high-tech scooters will be used by the police force's downtown task force, which will grow to nine members next year and is expected to reach 15 members over the next several years.

The issue of downtown safety was highlighted in October when a brawl among young people left three people injured, a store window smashed and some merchants rattled. Bramson repeated his assertion yesterday that downtown is safe, citing statistics showing the city has the fourthlowest crime rate among United States cities of its size.

The Segways come a month after Greenburgh showed off its own machine, the first for a police department in lower Westchester.

Preston Goddard, a Segway sales representative, said some 600 law enforcement agencies worldwide use them, including the Chicago, Miami and New York City police departments. He said officers need minimal training to use the Segways; it takes just a couple of minutes to get used to balancing on it and making it move.

"Once you're used to it, it's very, very simple, and the machine really does what you want it to do," he said.

Raheem Syed, owner of Cool Connections cell phone store on Main Street, was impressed by the sight of the officers demonstrating the Segways yesterday. He said he feels safe downtown anyway, but seeing the officers zip around the plaza makes him feel even safer.

"It clearly feels like you are in the 21st century," he said.

Reach Ken Valenti at klvalent@lohud.com or 914-696-8255

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