Its not unusual to see Forsyth Police Chief Keith Corley zipping around downtown, standing tall as he greets pedestrians on his way to City Hall -- without moving his feet.
He is standing while riding a Segway, a single-person electric vehicle that remains rare enough to stop passers-by in their tracks. Forsyth police have found that the departments two Segways, acquired over the past several years, offer some unique advantages for community policing.
While its not uncommon for cities to use small, electric vehicles for parking enforcement these days, law enforcement agencies are only beginning to explore their uses. Forsyth seems to be the only Middle Georgia police department using Segways. The Macon Police Department uses T-3s, three-wheeled, single-person electric vehicles that are also driven standing.
Charise Stephens, executive director of the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition, said she doesnt know of other Middle Georgia law enforcement agencies using these types of vehicles.
Earlier this week, Forsyth police officer Derek Bray demonstrated how he can check all the doors and windows of a business in about 15 seconds without ever stepping off the Segway. To help prevent burglaries, officers working at night check for unlocked doors and open windows in the business district.
Before the department bought the Segways, Bray said, police would just shine a flashlight at doorways from the car, not actually try doors.
Now you can check the same area in a quarter of the time, he said. And a couple times a night, youll find doors or windows open.
One day this week, Bray rode a Segway to Lovers Lane, a popular party spot where the Monroe County Sheriffs Office made a number of arrests last weekend. As he passed BZ Package on the way, customers in the parking lot waved enthusiastically.
We can go anywhere in town, and people will talk to you who wouldnt otherwise, he said.
Macon police Pvt. Leroy Howard said he has had the same experience on the T-3s.
The community loves them, he said. You actually have people that approach you, as opposed to us approaching people.
In that sense, the electric vehicles are far more visible than a car or bike, raising the profile of police in the community, both men said.
But they are also helpful when police want to be invisible, as when officers sneak up on people breaking the law on Lovers Lane. Bray noted that Segways are silent, smaller than a patrol car and can move about 12 miles per hour -- faster than an officer on foot. And the driver can keep his hands free to grab a flashlight, cell phone or gun if needed, Corley said.
Forsyth police use the Segways at festivals, parades and football games. The Segway and T-3 elevate the driver, allowing police to see over the heads in the crowd around them. At football games if theres a fight, you can see it and see the flow around it, so you can get there faster, Bray said.
And they can be driven anywhere with handicapped access, including inside stores and warehouses.
Forsyth acquired one Segway as a permanent loan from what is now called the Small, Rural, Tribal and Border Regional Center. Corley had evaluated the vehicles while serving on a board for the group.
The other Segway, along with two hybrid cars, was acquired after Forsyths former mayor asked Corley if there were any green vehicles he could use. He immediately requested a Segway.
I never thought wed have one here, he said.
But the city received a $75,500 grant from the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition to foot the bill for the Segway and cars after the coalition received a congressional appropriation for projects to reduce vehicle emissions. Forsyth put up a $12,000 match using funds seized from criminals during arrests, Corley said.
The Macon Police Department purchased its T-3s for about $11,000 each, also using confiscated funds, department spokeswoman Jami Gaudet said.
The five T-3s are used only by the officers who are part of the departments bike patrol. Howard, who is on the patrol, said the T-3s offer some key advantages over bikes: They can travel up to 25 miles per hour, and they help officers respond more rapidly to calls from downtown business owners.
Howard said Macon police use the T-3s for patrolling both day and at night. Like the Segway, the T-3 is less visible than a patrol car. But its more visible at night, and thus a little safer, than a bike, he said.