At first, two uniformed police officers riding around campus on a golf cart-like vehicle might look out of place, but over time the surprise should wane.
The vehicle is the all-electric Polaris Ranger EV, and University Police has been using it to patrol campus during the first two weeks of class as part of its early-semester enhanced visibility, with plans to continue increasing its use.
In many ways, the Polaris vehicle offers the same benefits that bicycle patrol does, Captain David Rose said. It allows officers to access places that traditional marked police cars cannot, and, like bikes, it lets them cover more area than they could on a typical foot assignment.
For instance, officers have been seen operating the vehicle on The Oval and on W. 18th Avenue between College Road and Neil Avenue. Both are areas closed to normal car traffic.
“It’s about accessibility,” Rose said.
One advantage the Polaris vehicle has over bikes, Rose said, is its ability to be used during inclement weather, like rain and snow, because it has a full cab and windows. And an advantage it has over traditional police cars, Rose said, is it allows for more interaction with students.
“You can drive really slow, almost like walking speed with people around you, so you can have conversations with students,” Rose said. “It’s not about just driving by in a police car with the windows up. It’s about interaction with the students so they know who you are and what we’re doing.”
University Police bought the vehicle last fall — the price tag with upgrades including lights, sirens and the enclosed cab came to $17,000 — but officers weren’t initially trained on how to use it so it wasn’t routinely used on everyday patrol.
Mostly, it was deployed during special events, such as Hillary Clinton’s campaign rally in October and for home football games. Because of the size of the crowd at those events, Rose said students might not have even noticed the Polaris vehicle was in use.
Ohio State is not the first university to see its police department acquire this type of vehicle, said Sue Riseling, the executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
Wisconsin, where Riseling had previously been police chief, uses them on football game days, and Riseling said a number of departments at Florida colleges also have them. The University of Southern California is in the process of buying three more Polaris vehicles to bring its total to five, said Ricardo Lugo, the fleet manager of USC’s department of public safety.
Rose said other local law enforcement agencies have similar all-terrain or utility vehicles, including the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, which has used all-terrain vehicles on football game-day patrols “for a number of years.”
“We just decided when the opportunity presented itself that we would purchase something similar,” Rose said, adding: “We interact with a lot of agencies, local state and federal, so we’re always looking for and keeping our eyes open for the new tools that available.”
Since the Polaris vehicle is still a relatively new tool, Rose said University Police continues to monitor the best way to employ it, and, at this time, there are no plans to purchase a second.
“We have [the Polaris] vehicle, we have bikes, we have traditional police cars. They all have their purposes, so we really like having a mix of vehicle,” Rose said. “I certainly wouldn’t see us switching to all electric or away from marked vehicles. They have their purpose as well, but we just find it’s a nice complement to the tools we have at this point.”