May 30, 2007 / 9:35 PM / 10 years ago

Segways give New York police a PR boost

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City police have found a public relations boost in a two-wheeled scooter, welcome relief to a department criticized for suspected racism and excessive force.

The nation's largest police force added the electric scooter known as the Segway to its means of locomotion two weeks ago, joining some 300 other police departments that use them. The attempt to combat crime has also helped police connect with the public.

"People love it. A lot of tourists take pictures," said Officer Rafael Valerio, who zipped through Central Park on Wednesday, prompting cheers from school children.

"It's a police Segway. That's why it's awesome," said one of the kids.

Police suffered public backlash when an off-duty officer shot and killed an unarmed Honduran immigrant Fermin Arzu, 41 earlier this month. The shooting recalled a November incident in which four officers fired 50 shots at three unarmed black men, killing Sean Bell, 23, on his wedding day.

Ten of the scooters have been in service at Central Park, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

The Segway, ridden standing up, allows cops to interact with the public while giving them a better vantage point at eight inches higher.

The scooters cost the department $5,400 each and can travel at up to 12.5 mph (20 kph), about the speed of a person sprinting.

The department also uses mountain bikes, three-wheeled scooters, cars, vans, motorcycles, helicopters, horses, boats and jet skis to get around.

Valerio said the Segway helped him be one of the first officers to respond to a ruckus caused by an emotionally disturbed person.

"I got to the guy rather quickly," while fellow officers were struggling to run loaded down with equipment, he said.

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