Segway assists in mall arrest

On scooter, officer glides outside and pulls over a theft suspect

December 14, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

An officer gliding around Westfield Annapolis mall on a motorized Segway as part of a new holiday patrol nabbed an alleged shoplifter -- the first time, officers say, that the highly-promoted gizmos have aided a local arrest.

Richard D. Jones, 25, of Edgewater was arrested Wednesday evening as he drove out of a parking garage. The officer was able to move from indoors to outdoors without missing a beat -- or hunting for his car keys.

Jones pulled over after the officer activated the Segway's blue-and-red police lights and a siren, which pack the same sense-pounding punch as a squad car.

Police said they found a black leather bag in Jones' car containing more than $750 worth of goods from three stores.

County police bought the Segway without fanfare this year and assigned it to the Southern District, a jurisdiction that includes Westfield Annapolis. The scooter was part of the heightened security for the recent peace conference at the Naval Academy, and has been deployed since the beginning of this month for evening holiday patrols at shopping centers.

"[Segway] is something new we've got this year, and it's already become an effective tool," said Sgt. Sara Schriver, a spokeswoman for the county police. "It takes the officer out of the police car and they still have the proper equipment necessary to pull over a vehicle or chase after somebody if necessary."

New Hampshire-based Segway Inc. says hundreds of police agencies and security organizations around the world are using its device, introduced in 2001. The scooters allow officers to see over crowds and move up to 12 mph while exerting minimal effort. In Maryland, the Maryland Transportation Authority and Bel Air police departments are among the agencies that use them.

Though Mayor Ellen O. Moyer called for buying "four additional Segways" as part of a wave of public safety initiatives announced this summer, the Annapolis Police Department doesn't own any of the devices.

It was one of two agencies that were lent them as part of a program administered by the Department of Justice, said Officer Pierre Pyle, who has taught officers statewide how to use them.

Though they have been budgeted year after year, none has been purchased.

"It's a great way to supplement our bike unit, another tool that can be used to combat crime," Pyle said. "The public seems much more willing to approach an officer on a Segway as opposed to a car or bicycle."

According to court records, Jones is on probation for assault. Police say he matched the description of a man who was seen breaking locks on a kiosk near Borders Books & Music.

While an officer was interviewing the witness, a call came over the police radio that someone matching the description was getting into a white Chevrolet and leaving the top deck of the parking garage near the food courts, charging documents show. The officer zipped outside on the Segway, spotted the vehicle and activated the lights and sirens, pulling the car over.

In addition to $750 worth of goods, police also recovered Oxycodone pills.

Jones has been charged with malicious destruction of property (there were broken glass cases at the kiosks), theft and drug possession.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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