From: ASH Institute
Published December 9, 2008 08:51 AM

Electric scooters give Fairfax police a silent edge

Fairfax's version of the stealth fighter is black, nearly silent and runs on batteries.

The police department's two new electric scooters - vehicles that look like a cross between a skateboard and a mountain bike - will give officers greater mobility and flexibility, said inventor Rob Fruechtenicht, a Fairfax resident.

"It really falls into what Fairfax is all about," Fruechtenicht told the Fairfax Town Council at its meeting Wednesday. "They're green, no-emission vehicles. They bring police officers into contact with the public. And they allow police to catch up with cyclists who run stop signs."

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Police say the new Diggler scooters are a far cry from the electric bikes the Fairfax department employed in the late 1980s, which were plagued with mechanical problems. The scooters can travel 20 miles on a single charge and can be refueled from any wall outlet.

"We expect to use them at the Fairfax Festival and other special events," said Police Chief Ken Hughes. "We'll especially use them to patrol routes to school and as a supplement to our foot patrols."

The scooters' silent running and ease of use have made them popular with police in Palo Alto, Stanford and Gonzales in Monterey County. Police at the University of California at Davis were the first to make a scooter-powered arrest.

"The officer was able to sneak up on the individual, make contact, determine there was an outstanding warrant in the individual's name and make the arrest," said UC Davis police Lt. Matt Carmichael. "We're finding that it allows us to go from point A to point B with ease. It's pretty handy - and very quiet."

Inventor Fruechtenicht said the Diggler scooter is just the latest example of the innovation for which Marin County is known.

"I grew up when guys like Gary Fisher and Charlie Cunningham were building mountain bikes in their garages," said Fruechtenicht, 38, who manages his company from a former chicken hatchery in Petaluma. "My friends and I were some of the first kids at Redwood High to have mountain bikes, back when they didn't exist in retail stores. For the Diggler, I blended my love of snowboarding with my love of BMX bicycles."

In addition to electric scooters, Fruechtenicht also markets scooters for children and dog walkers. On Saturday, dogs and "urban mushers" will converge on the Southern California town of Costa Mesa for the Great Serum Run, a dog-and-scooter race billed as an Iditarod on wheels.

"I never expected the dog scooter to be a substantial part of our business," said Fruechtenicht, who has found a following for his products in Russia, the Czech Republic and New Zealand. "You just never know where things are going next."

On Wednesday, the Fairfax Town Council agreed to purchase two of the $1,200 scooters for the police department.

"I'm just really thrilled and proud that Fairfax is leading the charge on this," Fruechtenicht said. "It's happening right where it should."

After seeing a demonstration of the scooter at Wednesday's meeting, Mimi Newton agreed.

"They look great, they're consistent with the town and they help make the local police more friendly," said Newton, chairwoman of the Fairfax Open Space Committee. "They're less RoboCop than a Segway."

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com

Read more Fairfax stories at the IJ's Fairfax section.

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