If Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson has his way, some officers soon will patrol business strips and special events on self-balancing scooters.
He has talked with Chicago's top cop about how the battery-powered contraptions have boosted police visibility and enhanced direct contact with residents.
"I can personally attest to its maneuverability and ease of operation, making it ideal for patroling high-pedestrian traffic areas," Gipson said after taking a recent test ride on a scooter, cruising from Police Headquarters to a spot near the Erie Basin Marina.
Gipson is asking the Common Council to find money to buy six Segway Human Transporters for use in all police districts. Scooters that are specially equipped for law enforcers with sirens, lights and other devices cost about $6,000 each.
The commissioner's request is falling on receptive ears. The Common Council encouraged city department heads back in July to study the feasibility of moving some workers out of gas-guzzling cars and putting them on two-wheeled personal transport devices. Sponsors Council Members Michael P. Kearns of the South District and Brian C. Davis of the Ellicott District believe the scooters would improve services, slash vehicle maintenance and fuel expenses, and help the environment.
Amherst police already use Segways to patrol the Williamsville business district, some recreational areas and special events. The Rochester Police Department recently sent out bids for a couple scooters, said Robert Hausrath, owner of Segway of Western New York.
And police in the Rochester suburb of Greece have been using the scooters to patrol a mall, Hausrath said.
"They're very beneficial to police officers and security people," said Hausrath. "It makes officers more easy to see, and it increases their ability to patrol areas."
Gipson said he doesn't believe the use of the scooters has to be negotiated with the police union, nor does he envision any resistance. He said the personal transport vehicles are easy to operate, adding it took him less than 15 minutes to get the hang of it.
"It's a very short learning curve," he said.
The scooters will be used only when weather conditions are suitable, Gipson stressed.
He is cautiously optimistic that some officers will be using the devices by next spring or early summer. He said they would be especially helpful during big events like the Allentown Art Festival, Taste of Buffalo and the Italian Festival.
The commissioner also would like to use the devices for patroling commercial districts throughout the city. Some Council members are hoping other city departments will consider using the electric scooters, even if on a limited basis. For example, Kearns thinks they would be ideal for parking enforcement tasks and perhaps even for housing inspections.
The full Council will receive Gipson's request when it meets Tuesday.