Yale Police officer Ivan Griffiths is starting to get used to the attention that comes with riding New Haven’s only police Segway.
“Hey, that’s the first one of these I’ve seen in person!” one student called to Griffiths.
“I gotta get me one of them,” said another, laughing.
The two men stopped to ask Griffiths about the Segway: What is it called? How fast does it go? How many do the police own? Griffiths smiled patiently and told them it’s the only Segway in the department and it can go up to 15 miles per hour.
“People are constantly stopping me to ask questions,” Griffiths said, continuing on his morning patrol. As he navigates around the orange construction cones and scaffolding, he is the center of attention on York Street, receiving quizzical glances and some laughs from pedestrians as he passes.
Over the summer, Griffiths and his colleague, Officer Roosevelt Martinez, have become minor celebrities in New Haven. They are known only as the Yale cops who ride the Segway, a two-wheeled battery-powered upright transportation device. On June 30, the Yale Police Department joined the growing ranks of law-enforcement agencies that use Segways in their patrols. Donated to the department by an anonymous alumnus, the Segway costs approximately $7,000 and is used in shifts by Griffiths and Martinez.
The Segway has come in handy at least once since its introduction at Yale. During their Segway training on the streets of New Haven, Griffiths and Martinez — who were in plainclothes at the time — received a message on the radio about three men who were wanted for arrest. Griffiths said he soon identified several men on the New Haven Green as the suspects, approached them on the Segway and promptly arrested them.
“It’s the element of surprise — nobody expects the cop on the Segway,” Griffiths said. “I think they thought we were just having fun with it.”
Described by the Segway company as “rugged, tough and designed to take you places,” the Segway x2 model that the officers use has a number of features which the police say make it ideal for use around campus. The vehicle is powered by a rechargeable battery, making it both environmentally friendly and quiet — a benefit in cases where the police need to sneak up behind a suspect. The Segway also comes with a pouch where police can keep their pens and ticket books. Most importantly, the Segway is convenient for operating in pedestrian walkways around campus, particularly in places where crime occurs.
But the Segway is more than useful, Griffiths said; it’s fun.
“Kids always stop me and ask me to blow the horn for them,” he said, testing the siren for effect. “And the women — I don’t know why, but they love it! I once had a woman pull over her car, get out and ask me if she could ride it. Of course, I had to say no.”
The Segway has received much attention from students since their return to campus this fall, both positive and negative. While some students are comforted by the fact that police are increasing their visibility on campus patrols, others say they take the police less seriously when on the Segway because they look silly.
“If I were a criminal being chased by a cop on a Segway, he would surely catch me — not because I couldn’t outrun him, but because I’d be laughing too hard,” Noah Mamis ’08 said. “Are our cops really that out of shape that they have to spend thousands of dollars on a device that doesn’t go any faster than they can walk?”
But members of the Yale Police Department have been effusive in their praise of the Segway and how much easier it has made the walking beat for patrol officers.
In two months of use, the Segway has not yet saved the day in any major incident, Yale Police Sgt. Steven Woznyk said. But it has increased visibility in key areas around campus, such as Old Campus, Broadway and Tower Parkway, he said.
“It looks great out there,” Woznyk said. “We’re even considering taking it to the Yale Bowl for football games and other events.”
Some Yale students said the Segway may be deterring crime by increasing police visibility around campus.
“Good policing is preventative policing, and an increased police presence prevents crime,” Michael Pomeranz ’09 said.
Yale is not the only university to deploy Segways on its campus. Johns Hopkins University police also use a Segway to get around the Baltimore campus during night patrols, according to junior Julia Maimone-Medwick.
“It’s really funny seeing our Hop Cops on Segways, riding into buildings and taking them on elevators,” she said. “But I’ve never seen cops actually chase anyone on them.”
In fact, the Segway is just beginning to come into its own as a chase vehicle. Last week, Chicago police officer Thaddeus Martyka arrested a gunman after one of the first-ever police Segway chases.
But many New Haven residents are still skeptical of the machine’s effectiveness.
Columbia graduate student James Coleman, who was living in New Haven over the summer and saw one of the officers fall off his Segway while on patrol one night, said he can’t imagine a Segway chase ever leading to a successful arrest.
“We heard him crash,” Coleman said. “It looked like he’d gone off a curb in the Broadway parking lot. How are you supposed to chase people on those things?”
The New Haven Police Department has not yet followed Yale’s lead in putting cops on Segways. Jessica Mayorga, director of communications for the city of New Haven, said the New Haven Police Department has considered investing in a Segway but will not be pursuing the idea at this time.
“While I’m sure the Segways are very helpful in moving around the streets and patrolling neighborhoods, they are very expensive,” Mayorga said. “We are not currently in any type of formal process to make a purchase.”
But Griffiths insists that the New Haven police officers he has spoken with are excited at the prospect of their department eventually acquiring a Segway.
“Even the New Haven cops stop and ask questions, ask to see a demonstration,” Griffiths said. “I wouldn’t use the term jealous, but everyone wants to ride it.”