Downtown’s Segway police
By John Bear
Officers Jerome Armijo and Carmen Michaud catch a woman jaywalking at First Street and Central, just across from Alvarado Transportation Center. They run the woman’s name and it hits: She is wanted for felony burglary. After placing her under arrest, they call a detective.
Armijo and Michaud patrol Downtown atop Segways
Michaud hops in the back of the detective’s unmarked Crown Victoria with the suspect, and the car pulls away. Armijo steers his Segway across the street, dragging his partner’s along behind him. Jaywalking doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but at this particular intersection it has been a problem, he explains. Several children have nearly been run over. He chastises a man with ram’s horns tattooed on his head for jaywalking. Dripping sarcasm, the man comments, “That’s a real nice vehicle, officer,” and keeps moving.
But Armijo says most folks like these personal transportation units. “People tend to come up more when we’re on the Segways” he says. “They may just want to know about them, but then they get on to other things, like, I’m having this situation, or, This is going on in my neighborhood. They are very approachable and very people friendly.”
Michaud rejoins her partner. Within minutes, they have another man handcuffed. He was drinking vodka while sitting at the bus stop. His intoxication level becomes apparent when he falls over. Soon, a half-dozen firefighters are checking the man out. Then a pair of paramedics pitches in. He is not arrested, only cited for public intoxication. The man, who slips in and out of consciousness, is hastened to the hospital.
“These are the kinds of things we have to deal with,” Armijo explains.
They are the only two officers who ride the Segways, which cost about $6,000 apiece and can reach speeds of 12.5 mph. Armijo says the vehicles run on electricity and last all day off one charge. “They are efficient,” Michaud adds. “They don’t burn any fuel.”
They also allow for stealth not possible with police cars. Much like bicycle police, Segway officers can quietly approach criminals in the act.
“There’s a park down here, and we rolled up in the middle of a group of people about to smoke crack” Armijo says. “A couple ran, and we caught a couple. They never saw us coming.”
They have used the Segways to chase at least one suspect down. A man with a felony warrant ran away, Armijo says, and they tracked him for two blocks before corralling him and placing him under arrest. “He got tired,” Armijo explains.
The only disadvantage posed by the Segways is prisoner transport, he adds. If he arrests a group of people, he has to park his vehicle and walk the offenders to jail.
Michaud has walked the Downtown beat for three years, though she's been an officer for 10. Armijo has seven years in the area under his belt and says he loves it. He's been a cop for nearly 30 years.
The Segways have larger tires these days, he says, which make for a smoother ride. The Segways are maneuverable and operate by leaning the body in different directions, difficult at first but easier with practice.
“There’s a park down here, and we rolled up in the middle of a group of people about to smoke crack. ... They never saw us coming.”
“The models we use are considered law enforcement models,” Armijo says. “They have all-terrain wheels, which make them good for driving through cacti and stuff like that.”
He says police departments all over the country use them. Segway officers can sometimes respond to calls more quickly than beat officers in cars stuck in traffic.
Armijo and Michaud patrol a large area—First to 10th Street, and Lead to Lomas. Days are unpredictable: They might help a homeless person find services or bust someone carrying ounces of heroin.
The two divide their time between the vehicles and walking, which they say helps them get to know folks, be they business owners or the sizable contingent of homeless people who live in or pass through the Downtown area. An average patrol officer spends her time heading from call to call. Armijo and Michaud have time to meet the Downtown population. “There are a lot of eyes and ears out here," Armijo says.
The information they gather from their relationship with the public has led to arrests. They were once contacted by a business owner who saw a suspicious man inside an office building. The business owner called Armijo, and the man was caught. It turned out the thief had been ripping off businesses for years; the thefts stopped only while he did a bid in the state pen. Armijo says people will report crime directly to him without going through dispatch, where critical time and information can be lost.
The job is challenging at times. Besides being caught out in the elements all day, Michaud says, many of the homeless people in the area are mentally ill, and it can be difficult to gain their trust. Sometimes it takes years to build a rapport. Downtown's proximity to bus lines and other transit in and out of Albuquerque gives it a large transient population. Part of Michaud and Armijo's job description is interacting with this demographic.
Armijo says he and Michaud have guided many folks to programs that help get them off the streets—if that’s what they want.
“We tend to deal with them on a day-to-day basis,” Armijo says. “We know their issues. There’s always going to be homeless people. Some people want to be. We do try to get people hooked up into services.”
One by one, four homeless men pass by and say hello to the officers who are standing on a street corner talking. Armijo and Michaud knew each one and his story.
“There’s a lot who know us by name,” Michaud says. “A guy comes around; we build a friendship.”
Both officers like working the beat. Armijo especially seems content to spend his career Segwaying the streets of Downtown Albuquerque.
“I’ll keep doing it as long as they let me,” Armijo says. “I still love my job.”
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