If you saw a helmet-clad Merced police officer standing and riding a two-wheeled contraption around downtown Thursday, you saw right.
Three patroller models of the personal transporter, made by the company Segway, were given to the Police Department for a two-week trial. It's part of a tour Segway is conducting called Patrolling Across America, for public safety departments that haven't used the transporters to test them, according to Jamie Marsh, national account manager for the company.
Marsh was on hand Thursday afternoon at Merced High School for a demonstration with a few police officers. He spent the day showing Sgt. Jay Struble, Lt. Tom Trindad and other police officers how to ride the two-wheeled transporters across various types of terrain.
"They're fun," Struble said.
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The department will use off-road and standard electrical transporters for the next two weeks. The off-road model costs $7,800 and a standard model is $7,400. The riders each have a watch, with wireless technology, that monitors the battery charge and how much distance has been covered. The maximum speed of the transporters is 12.5 mph. The off-road model can travel 12 miles on one charge, the standard model 24 miles per charge. It takes about six hours to charge a transporter if the battery has been drained.
The idea is for the device to be an extension of your body, Marsh said.
Law enforcement officials said residents approached them while they were riding the transporters around town.
Ana Cintron, 46, of Merced came up to talk to them at the Merced High School track. "We can't see them in their cars, this is more mobile and (has more) freedom," she said, standing with her friends.
And the personal transporters would help the city in its efforts to go green. "It's electrical so I'm not harming the environment," Trindad said.
The height of the transporters improves officers' ability to spot something suspicious, said Trindad, who heads the bike patrol program for the department. He noted the transporters would be an extension of the program. One patroller will be used at the school and two will be downtown.
However, Trindad said the department will look for funding, perhaps through a grant, to cover training and the New Hampshire-based Segway-made transporters. "It's a cost savings," Trindad said.
Marsh said after the initial purchase, the only maintenance needed is to plug in the transporter any time a rider isn't on it, and check tire pressure.
"If you see them, say hi," Marsh said.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.