Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Watch Out Bad Guys! The Cops Got Segways!

Cops using Segways on Plaza Bolívar.

Bogotá police have found a new way to move around - on Segways, those weird, two-wheeled vehicles which stand up by themselves and roll at a walking pace.

Better on bikes? On the
Plaza del Periodista. 
Which makes me ask: Wouldn't they be better off on bikes? Or skateboards? Or on foot, for that matter?

From what I read, a Segway maxes out at about 20 kph - slower than a sprint by one of the fit young men who commit most of Bogotá's petty crime. And how about those agile criminals who know how to climb stairs, skip over curbs and even leap over walls? Do the police, in hot pursuit, continue on foot, abandoning the Segway to being stolen itself, or stick with the Segway and wave goodbye to the bad guy? And can Segways handle the city's potholes and fractured sidewalks? How about when that battery runs out of charge in mid-chase?
A step too far? Could a
Segway sprint up these stairs?

Compare that to a bicycle, which can move much faster, at least for short distances, especially downhill, and keeps the cyclist in shape. And, upon reaching stairs, a fit cop can hoist that bike onto his shoulder and charge up the steps. Try that with a 95 pound Segway.

Cops on 'patrol' on Seventh Ave.
Maybe with Segways, they'd get
Aren't bicycles a better idea?
Bogotá police used to ride bicycles, but gave them up a few years ago, for no evident reason - despite the huge economic difference: each Segway costs a whopping $27 million pesos, or about $15,000 dollars - close to double Colombia's per-capita annual income. A solid bicycle costs several hundred thousand pesos, and surely is cheaper to maintain. El Tiempo reports that the Bogotá police have 20 Segways and plan to buy 250 total, which would cost 6,750,000,000 pesos. All of those zeroes could build a few houses for poor people or provide lots of school lunches. Bogotá has a real crime problem, but do the criminals really fear Segways?

Rolling alongside the San Francisco River,
on Jimenez Ave. 
On the positive side, cops on Segways might move around more than they do on foot. A few weeks ago I got mugged here in La Candelaria, albeit late at night. Afterwards, I encountered a group of policemen down on Seventh Ave. chatting. Perhaps on Segways or other transport, they would have been patrolling instead of talking and happened upon the mugging scene. The Segway company's website says the machines make good icebreakers, to generate conversation between police and community, and make cops more visible. That's true, but you could say the same for cops on bicycles or horses.

The new frontier in personal mobility devices: legs?
And the vehicles could make sense in big indoor spaces like the airport and bus terminal. Even so, a pair of police officers complained to me that they feel more tired standing on the Segways all day than they do walking. And that makes me wonder what tooting about all day on an upright golf cart will do to the police officers' fitness levels - and how fast they'll move the day they have to step off of the segway and actually use their own legs to chase down a bad guy.

This El Tiempo article reports apparent irregularities and over-payments for the Segways and some electric scooters.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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