Walking the beat was so yesterday. Today's police officers are climbing on two wheels, and they don't even have to worry about a sore butt from the bike seat. City of Charleston officers have been using a Segway during patrols of busy tourist areas downtown and they're getting around the peninsula on two new Honda Nighthawk motorcycles. A recent $34,000 federal grant is going to pay for two T-3 Motion vehicles — essentially a three-wheeled Segway — that will expand the department's growing fleet of alternative vehicles.
In its request for the T-3s, the city pointed to Charleston's unique grid. "Many of the streets are no wider than they were when originally designed," the request reads. The battery-powered vehicles are also a cost-effective response to gas prices that are sapping government budgets.
The T-3 has similar agility to the more familiar Segway, only it has three wheels to improve balance. It'll also go faster (up to twice as fast as the Segway's 12 miles-per-hour), last longer (with an easy-to-replace battery), and will have lights and sirens.
Sgt. Jason Emanuele has been using the department's Segway for several months, running between King Street, the City Market, Waterfront Park, the French Quarter, and the Battery. While he's got nothing against walking the beat, the first benefit from the Segway is a few extra inches.
"It gets you higher above the crowd," Emanuele says. "You get a better picture of what's going on."
Officers respond to calls regarding minor accidents or other routine incidents on the Segway, even thought it's not a speedster.
"Do you really go that much faster in downtown traffic?" Emanuele asks.
With the county jail now serving the city, officers use a paddy waggon for transport, meaning that the bulky cruisers aren't a necessity for every officer in the field.
The Segway is also a public relations phenomenon. The department's Segway is likely one of the first that many Charleston residents and tourists have seen up close.
"I spend half of my time on that thing explaining how it works," Emanuele says. "But it gets us face-to-face with people and gets us out of that cruiser. You get separated with that glass and that steel."
Fore some residents, the Segway has been a conversation starter. They'll start with questions about the vehicle and then move on to neighborhood concerns or problems at home.
Most officers are happy to take a round on the vehicle. "The ones with the egos don't like to be seen on it," Emanuele says.
And he's had a few smart-ass comments from some observers. Two college kids in a junky hatchback screamed in laughter one day. "I wanted to say, 'Do you see what you're driving?'" he says. Another time, a lady walked by, telling her friends that the "cops are too lazy to be on their feet anymore."
Overall, most people are more fascinated than amused by the Segway.
Other local agencies use it too, including some resource officers at area high schools and security guards at malls. But the vehicle has its limits. The Mt. Pleasant Police Department planned to use the Segway on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge but couldn't find a convenient place to store the vehicle when officers were not patrolling.
The City of Charleston has further diversified its transportation stock with the two Nighthawk motorcycles. They're small, quiet bikes you'd expect to see in the Bourne movies, not on the peninsula.
"It's like a moped on steroids," Emanuele says. "Cops just love them. They're fighting over them."
The bikes have been particularly helpful in netting drunk drivers.
While he doesn't have a bike of his own, Officer Mike Chandler is happy to use the department's, particularly on nice days.
"I get paid to use something I'd probably have to pay to use otherwise," he says.