Creative strategies for increasing police interaction with community members can help build rapport and trust between law enforcement officers and citizens. Yet small staff sizes and budgets often limit small, rural, tribal and border (SRTB) law enforcement agencies from employing innovative technologies to address this issue. The City of Forsyth in Georgia happened upon a technology that has been great for community relations, the Segway electric scooter.
In the early 2010s, the then-Chief of Police agreed to test and review two Segways. After the testing period, the Department was allowed to keep them, and now uses them to patrol the town square and surrounding businesses, and at special events.
The City of Forsyth Police Department has 25 sworn officers for a population of approximately 4,000 residents. The downtown is quaint and reminiscent of a 1950’s small town. The Square marks the heart of the downtown with City Hall sitting in the middle of a grassy block, surrounded by local businesses. Despite its small size, the city attracts considerable tourism, for two reasons. It is located between Atlanta and Macon on heavily trafficked Interstate 75, and it is also the closest city to Juliette, where the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed.
With a large number of visitors arriving by car, the police force spends much of its time ensuring public safety by patrolling in vehicles. But because of the heavy pedestrian traffic, the town’s Square is an ideal location in which to engage with residents and visitors, and police have in the past facilitated community engagement on foot in the area.
Technology and operations solutions
The Segway electric scooter has two large wheels, a platform, and a handlebar for support. The rider controls its movement using body positioning. Leaning forward makes it go; the farther the rider leans forward, the faster it goes. Leaning back slows it down and ultimately stops it. The rider steers by shifting body weight; the handlebar is only for support. It can travel on hard surfaces, gravel, dirt, grass, and even over curbs.
Caption: City of Forsyth police officers with their Segways
Photos obtained courtesy of City of Forsyth Police Department (Taken 2/15/2017).
The Segways offer an alternative to foot or vehicle patrols. A Segway is faster than walking and offers a positive engagement opportunity. An officer wears a helmet and a reflective police vest while riding one. One of the Segways has a police decal and a flashing light. Officers have noticed that when they walk the square, people usually wave to them. When they ride the Segway, however, the novelty of it encourages people to stop and talk. Officers also like the Segways because they can approach people at night without causing attention—the scooters are very quiet.
In addition to regular patrols, the Forsyth Police Department uses them in other situations as well. For example, they offer a two-day driving clinic for youth at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC). The Segways provide a way to get around the clinic quickly and to allow the instructors, the state and local public safety trainees attending courses at the GPSTC, and area youth to try them out. At the annual back-to-school rally, police allow the public to stand on the Segways or take them for a short ride and allow children to have their picture taken on them. At parades, the Segways increase police presence by enabling them to get around quickly and maneuver in crowds.
Maintenance and use have been simple. The Segway plugs into a standard 120V outlet and charges in six to seven hours. With intermittent use, the charge lasts for three to four days. The only maintenance the Department has had to do on their units is to replace the tires. Although the unit does disassemble, Forsyth City police prefer to transport the units in its truck or SUV.
Outcomes and advice
Although Segways were first produced in 2002, they remain a novelty. Adults and children ask officers about them, providing an opportunity for police and citizens to talk casually about an interesting piece of equipment. Officers build rapport with residents, improving community relations. In particular, the Segways allow children to have positive, non-threatening interaction with police.
When the department first received the Segways, some officers were not keen on them because they thought it would be mandatory to use them. The department’s stance, however, has always been that officers can, but are not mandated to, use the Segways. Because use is optional, adopting this technology has not required any changes to the department’s policies. Officers show each other the basics of how to use the units. Riding the Segway ultimately comes down to balance, control, and practice.
Forsyth Police Chief Eddie Harris says that no matter how many times the officers ride around the square, people always have something to say when they see an officer on a Segway—it just never seems to get old. For police departments who can purchase Segways, have the opportunity to test one, or receive one as a donation, Chief Harris reiterates that they are a great tool for community engagement and increasing police presence, at sporting events and other community gatherings.
For more information: Chief Harris, City of Forsyth Police Department, firstname.lastname@example.org