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Little Rock, Ark. to use new electric bicycles to patrol streets

By Rainer Sabin
The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK Retired Gen. Wesley Clark once hawked WaveCrest electric bicycles for police departments as a Washington lobbyist. Now, his hometown of Little Rock is the first major department to bite.

The city recently purchased 10 electric bicycles, at $3,000 each, made by Virginia-based WaveCrest.

For the last two years, WaveCrest and the city of Little Rock have discussed using the equipment for police operations.

The five-year-old company has strong Arkansas connections. Clark served as chairman of WaveCrest's board before his bid for the presidency last year. Former federal transportation secretary Rodney Slater, a Marianna native, is an adviser for the technology firm.

"The first place (Clark) thought of putting this technology was in his hometown of Little Rock," said Tom McMahon, a vice president of government affairs for WaveCrest. "We are gratified that they are the first major police department to use this technology and the largest operator for electric bicycles in law enforcement."

The bikes could be put to use as soon as this weekend, when Riverfest - Little Rock's biggest food-and-music-and-crafts event - will be held. Delivered late last week, they resemble mountain bicycles.

"One of the challenges of law enforcement is try to use what we have as best we can, to expand our reach and our range, to go to places further than we have been and a little bit faster and a little bit better," Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas said Tuesday. "One of the things we have looked at is our deployment in non-traditional elements - not in cars - but in different things."

The bicycles, ordered through Little Rock retailer Chain Wheel two months ago, can reach speeds up to 25 mph and can travel a distance of 20 miles on a single charge of their battery packs.

"The Little Rock Board of Directors, along with our city managers, have designated public safety as our number-one priority," Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey said. "A large fleet of electric bicycles speaks to our commitment to public safety."

The company has previously sold a limited number of bicycles to police departments in West Palm Beach, Fla. and Juneau Beach, Fla. in addition to striking deals with campus police departments at several North Carolina universities. But McMahon said that that Arkansas' capital city has been its biggest law enforcement client.

McMahon said that, in the coming months, WaveCrest will try to persuade other cities to follow Little Rock's lead.

"We hope we will be able to use Little Rock as a real launching pad for cities around the country," he said. "There are lots of opportunities, especially in this part of the country."

Thomas, however, said there is some concern about being the guinea pig for new technology. Over the next six months, he said the police department will evaluate how well the bicycles function.

"It's risk and reward," he said. "Anytime you have new technology, there is always that risk it will not pan out the way you want to. If it's good, yeah it's great thing. If they bomb out in two months and they are in moth balls then it's not so much."

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