College Campus Patrol Finds Segway an Easy Ride

Oct. 19--PANAMA CITY -- Tim Burke stood tall on his Segway as he wheeled around the palm trees Wednesday at Gulf Coast Community College with the greatest of ease.

A patrolman with the Florida State University-Panama City Police Department, he and other officers use the black, twowheeled scooter to patrol FSU-PC and nearby Gulf Coast Community College, thanks to a joint contract between the schools and the department.

John Holdnak, vice president of administrative services at Gulf Coast, introduced the Segway to the department after seeing security officers on them at several airports and at Epcot at Walt Disney World. Those places are similar to both colleges because they are congested with pedestrians, Holdnak said.

Before the Segway, the campuses were patrolled from "the periphery," Holdnak said. He and other Gulf Coast Community College officials hope the machine will bring officers and students together.

"It opens the door for students and our security personnel to talk, and that could open doors in a different circumstance on another day," Holdnak said.

Mastering the new device took about six hours of training and an ability to face down male insecurities.

"This is not the most manly thing in the world," Burke said.

Burke wore a cyclist-style helmet, a yellow police vest and sunglasses while showing off the device Wednesday. Whatever initial reservations officers may have had with the new scooter have been offset by the device's strengths. For one thing, the electric engineering feat saves on gas and footwear.

"I wish I would have had one 20 years ago," Burke said. "It would have saved a lot of wear and tear on my shoes."

Gulf Coast Community College bought two Segways for about $10,000 as part of its contract with the police department. The college usually buys officers a new cruiser every few years. This time, administrators went with a less expensive car and used the leftover money to buy two Segways.

Gulf Coast and FSU-PC face few criminal threats -- mostly car burglaries or missing books, Burke said.

Burke said if he had to chase a suspect, he probably would get off the Segway and run after the evildoer -- unless there was a lot of space and no pedestrians who could get hurt.

Students and employees who wanted to know more about the vehicle stopped Burke several times Wednesday.

"He looks professional," said Paul Belcher, an engineering student at Gulf Coast. "I wonder how fast he can go on that thing?"

The scooter roars up to 15 mph and can travel on all terrain.

The device moves and turns based on how the user moves his or her body weight while leaning on the platform.

Copyright (c) 2006, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.