Hermiston PD takes test drive on two wheels

<p>Officers Bryan Maess, Shane Robinson and Erica Franze try out "personal transporters" from Segway on Thursday. The Hermiston Police Department is testing two of the vehicles for two weeks.</p>

Three Hermiston Police officers traded in patrol cars last week for a few hours for a smaller, more mobile mode of transportation: Segways.

“I love them. They’re very maneuverable, very quick, very agile,” officer Shane Robinson said. “I could really see a use for these.”

For two weeks, the department is testing out two personal transporters, or PTs, as part of Segway Inc’s “Patrolling Across America” program. Thursday, Segway’s Jamie Marsh trained three officers on use of the two-wheeled devices.

Marsh, who has spent nine months traveling across the country in a bus, was next scheduled to stop in Richland, Wash.

“The goal is for the officers to try them out in their own environment,” Marsh said Thursday. “These guys (in Hermiston) took to it very well.”

Segway has vehicles in about 1,200 police departments worldwide, according to Marsh, with “fleets” ranging from one vehicle to 300.

Patrol PTs differ from regular-use Segways by having extra reflective shielding, a bumper for quick dismount and red-and-blue flashing lights. Hermiston Police Chief Dan Coulombe heard of the “Patrolling” program and signed the department up for the test.

“There are a lot of applications that we could use these for,” Coulombe said. “It’s another platform for us to interact with the public in a non-confrontational way. It gives us the ability to get out of the cars and go face-to-face with people.”

The three officers trained on the PTs — Erica Franz, Bryan Maess and Robinson — said they could see practical applications.

“It’s awesome,” Franz said. “I was really skeptical, but after the training, it is such a great tool. It’s a lot easier than you think.”

The officers said they could see a use for the vehicles at events, such as Funfest or the Umatilla County Fair. Saturday, Franz had a table set up at the fourth annual Community Health Fair in McKenzie Park and admitted she considering bringing out one of the Segways.

“I’m thinking about getting it out,” she said with a laugh.

Marsh will return to Hermiston at the end of the month. If the city opts to purchase the vehicles, each PT Patroller will cost at least $7,460.

“It’s really an incredible opportunity for us,” Coulombe said. “We’ll have them for two weeks. We’ll see what the public’s reaction is to them.”

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