The Hawthorne (California) Police Department’s newly established Community Affairs Unit was tasked with coming up with innovative and creative ideas on “how better to connect with the residents and business of Hawthorne.” The Hawthorne Police Department (HPD) has a history of embracing new and emerging technology, and they recently applied for a grant to purchase three electric-powered Segway Patrollers. The Segway Patroller is a two-wheeled device that is powered by a rechargeable battery and covers up to 25 miles at a maximum speed of 12 mph.
What the Hawthorne Police liked about the Segway is that it removes the traditional barrier of the police car. The Segway allows for officers to “slow down” and gives them a chance to see things in more detail within the community. Officers can patrol the business districts and actually go inside stores while riding the Segways. This “high visibility” policing serves a dual purpose of deterring criminal activity through “point of presence patrolling” and enhancing police–community communications. The local businesses like the officers riding the Segways because it brings back the “beat cop” concept, where the officers get to know the business owners and are able to address problems such as parking disputes and transient-panhandling problems.
The Hawthorne Police use the Segways a bit differently than most police agencies, as HPD officers actually perform “targeted patrol” to individual neighborhoods. Officers will pick a residential area and in the course of 4 - 8 hrs, patrol every single street in that area, stopping to talk to residents about concerns in the community and offering residents a chance to talk about things that are important to them. The “friendliness” of the Segway’s “wow, what is that?” factor facilitates communication from people that may be too shy to approach officers in a marked patrol car.
HPD officers have taken the Segways to elementary schools to teach the kids about safety and “stranger danger,” and even read Dr. Seuss to the kids, all while riding the Segway. The kids love it and always ask a million questions—this helps establish a good relationship between police and children at an early age, letting kids know that the police are there to help them.
The Hawthorne Police Segway program has been a huge success at the Hawthorne Police Department. Through the use of the Segways, the HPD has not only been able to connect with the community in new ways, but has also reduced its carbon footprint through the fact that the officers are patrolling the city using electric power, not gasoline. Thus, the HPD has ushered in a new era of community policing and now leads the way in its approachability and responsiveness to community issues.
-Sgt. Chris Cognac
Hawthorne Police Department