Police patrolling Plaza a good idea, but Segways? ...

Downtown foot patrols have clearly demonstrated a need for continued police presence. Police have been helpful, friendly and easily accessible when needed. The fear spread by some in Ashland of jack-booted thuggish rogue cops running around like loose cannons is unsubstantiated phobia that fuels a never-ending debate about the APD. The city's focus on ensuring the Plaza environment is safe and free of drug transactions is a welcome part of the community policing effort.

Nevertheless, the presence of police on the Plaza has not gone without some controversy. Officer Teri DeSilva recently roamed the downtown area on a new Segway, which the department is test-driving in an effort to determine its effectiveness for Plaza patrols. We like the Segway. We like the image it presents with a friendly patrol person piloting the Plaza. The machines are quick, clean and environment-friendly. But at a cost of $6,000 each, plus maintenance and repair costs, we are compelled to question whether the novelty of riding a gadget outweighs the traditional bicycle that serve the same purpose?

A Segway enables an officer to carry more hardware in its compartments. It maintains consistent power even when the officer is tired. These capabilities do indeed set it apart from the bicycle. But do those qualities warrant the expenditures necessary to acquire a couple of cool techno-gadgets that can only be used a few months out of the year?

The decision lends itself to consideration of the priorities of our city leaders. The police department has earned the respect of the public and continues to improve its image and interaction within our community. Segways enable police to step out of the car and into the streets with pedestrian traffic. But its patrols on new-fangled machines, rushing past the old broken water fountain on the Plaza and Lithia Park's slimy duck pond, will draw more attention to the lack of leadership on our city council.

Perhaps the notion of APD on Segways would receive our rousing support if officers would ticket the water fountain and duck pond in the same fashion as it cites abandoned vehicles. When the public leaves an eyesore that draws the attention of law enforcement officers, a note of warning and eventually a fine is imposed. Before the APD considers spending its own budget for a Segway for sunny days, perhaps it might cruise downtown and issue a citation to those responsible for abandonment of the eyesore on the Plaza. By the time the council decided to do anything about it the fines accrued by the city might just pay for a fleet of Segways for the APD.

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