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Segway News

Chet

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Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Oct. 16, 2002.
By KAY NOLAN, Special to the Journal Sentinel


Oconomowoc tables debate on gift scooter

Oconomowoc - After police officers laughed at the idea of riding a high-tech scooter and vowed that they would never use it, the Common Council decided to table discussion of accepting a gift to the city of a Segway Human Transporter.

The $5,000 device would be donated by local sponsors, who also would pay for special training, including travel expenses, for a selected police officer.

A Segway is a battery-operated scooter that is ridden in a standing position. Compared with common children's scooters, the Segway is a space-age precision instrument. It contains gyroscopes and electronic sensors that allow the rider to maneuver by leaning while maintaining balance. It can reach speeds of 12.5 mph.

Mayor Gary Kohlenberg said he had hoped that the scooter's main purpose would be communication, not transportation. He said he envisioned the scooter being used at parades and downtown events, such as art fairs, festivals and concerts, "and possibly for regular patrols."

"Any time you introduce technology to youth, there is a great likelihood they will want to know more about it," he said. "I see this as a great icebreaker."

But local police ridiculed the idea of making the transition, as they saw it, from being Officer Friendly to being seen as Inspector Gadget, the movie detective with mechanical magic.

"None of the officers in the department wants to ride," Sgt. Greg Caviani said. "It would look like we're too fat to walk, you know, the stereotype of the police officer who eats too many doughnuts."

Other officers expressed concern about safety and liability issues if they fell off or collided with pedestrians.

Sgt. Mark Schrang said, "I applaud Mayor Kohlenberg for his energy and enthusiasm in wanting to give us a piece of equipment, but who is going to be held liable if I crash into someone coming out of a store?"

In an interview, Police Chief Hugh Martin said, "The officers are not in favor of the Segway at all," adding that none had volunteered to be trained to ride it.

"The Segway's been a hard sell," he said. "Maybe what disturbs the officers is that they don't see it as practical."

Martin said the department already has a number of programs to reach out to the public. "Our Walk and Talk program requires officers to actually get out of their squad cars and talk to people," he said. "We also have our Cops in Schools program, and that's been very well received. In addition, we have two bicycle patrol officers who mingle with the public."

Martin also hinted at resentment at what the department sees as an unsolicited gift.

"It's not as if it's Christmas and we get to choose a gift we'd like" he said. "There's only one item under the Christmas tree."

But Kohlenberg said: "It's amazing that this thing has raised so much opposition. If police officers won't ride it, that's OK. I'd like to see the city go ahead and approve it anyway."

One citizen, Charles Kilander, urged aldermen and the Police Department to be more positive.

"Let's give people something about Oconomowoc to like," he said. "If the police are afraid to ride it, I'll ride it and put a sign on my back saying 'volunteer policeman.' Let's try it. If you don't like it, I'll buy it from you."

Aldermen had mixed reactions.

Joe Snyder called the scooter a joke, but Scott Antonneau said he would like to see the city acquire a Segway, as long as the Police Department was not forced to use it, given the extreme reluctance.
 
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