January 17, 2013The Guilford County Sheriff's Department plans to expand its pool of vehicles used in law enforcement efforts: In addition to squad cars, motorcycles, undercover high-end sports cars, bikes, vans, trucks and RVs, the department is adding Segways to the list.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes has put in a request to buy seven of the battery-powered, single-rider, gyroscope-balanced, two-wheel curiosities, and all indications are that the Board of Commissioners will grant that request at the Thursday, Jan. 17 commissioners meeting.
The Sheriff's Department wants seven new "i2 Patroller" Segways, largely for use at county schools. The purchase totals $50,000, which averages out to about $7,150 per Segway. There was no competitive bid process since Segways are a "sole source" product; the only company that makes and sells the one-rider vehicles is Segway Inc. based in Bedford, New Hampshire.
The Sheriff's Department's school resource officers (SROs) will use the seven Segways to patrol the following Guilford County high schools, as well as nearby middle schools: Northeast, Eastern, Southeast, Southern, Ragsdale, Northwest and Northern.
With a top end of about 12 miles per hour, the Segways will be the slowest mode of transportation the Sheriff's Department owns. However, Barnes said the vehicles are perfect for use at area schools.
"I've run it by officers who have to cover ground between schools," Barnes said.
He said his department had been considering the idea for some time and he added that the decision was in no way related to heightened security in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Barnes said that if an officer has to run from one school to another in response to a call, he or she might be too fatigued upon arrival on the scene to perform the necessary duties; however, if they have Segways, that won't a problem.
Barnes said that, in keeping with the wishes of school officials, the Segways would be used only on the school grounds, not inside the schools.
"They didn't want the Segways up and down the halls," Barnes said.
It doesn't look as though Barnes will have any trouble getting his request granted. With the exception of Commissioner Bruce Davis, who is in a long-running battle with the sheriff over a great many things, the commissioners are usually very supportive of the Sheriff's Department – especially when it comes to expenditures from the federal forfeiture fund. The money in that fund comes from confiscated cash, as well as the sale of vehicles and other items seized by the Sheriff's Department, largely from drug dealers.
Barnes said he'd spoken with some commissioners about the proposed Segway purchase and there didn't seem to be any opposition. The Board of Commissioners must give its approval on how money from that fund is spent.
Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said she generally doesn't stand in Barnes' way when he spends those federal forfeiture dollars.
"That's fine with me," Coleman said of the purchase.
Commissioner Ray Trapp also said he had no problem with the move since no taxpayer dollars were being used.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Linda Shaw also said she was likely to support the move.
"He's an elected official and it's federal forfeiture money," Shaw said.
At least one commissioner has an issue with the request. Commissioner Bill Bencini said that if it's too far to walk, the officers could use "less costly conveyances, bicycles."
"And it if is not too far to walk," Bencini added, "maybe the exercise would justify the SRO to have another doughnut."
The Sheriff's Department isn't the first county department to get Segways. About three years ago, the Guilford County Security Department bought two. Security Director Jeff Fowler said those were working out well.
"They allow you to get from one spot to another quickly," Fowler said.
According to Fowler, the upkeep of the two Segways is minimal.
"We've had to replace tires and the batteries for the little lights," Fowler said.
Fowler said officers use the vehicles to patrol and respond in downtown Greensboro, where there are a lot of county buildings in close proximity.
Fowler said he remembers the comments Barnes made when the Security Department got its Segways.
"He said they might be useful at the GGO," Fowler said.
Fowler also said that the Sheriff's Department officer who's overseeing the implementation of the Segways in the schools had come to his department recently and received training on how to ride them.
The use of Segways, which were unveiled to the public with much hoopla in 2001, hasn't become as widespread as the producers hoped, but the vehicles have found a place in niche markets.
In fall of 2011, Randolph County SROs began using Segways to patrol schools in that county.
The expenditure of $50,000 by Guilford County on the seven Segways will leave about $669,000 in the department's federal forfeiture fund.