ASHLAND — Tourists do a double-take when they see Ashland police officer Teri DeSilva zooming around the downtown plaza on what looks like a horseless black chariot.

ASHLAND — Tourists do a double-take when they see Ashland police officer Teri DeSilva zooming around the downtown plaza on what looks like a horseless black chariot.

She rolls up to a California woman in a white Honda who asks for directions to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

DeSilva motions her down Main Street.

After a four-day test drive, Ashland is poised to become the first Southern Oregon police force to patrol its downtown with a Segway, a battery-operated vehicle that has caught interest in some tourist towns and urban areas such as Chicago and San Diego.

Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness plans to ask City Council in August to authorize spending $6,000 to purchase one Segway, geared up specifically for police use with lights and a siren.

Medford and Jacksonville police departments have also inquired about the gadget, but neither has scheduled a test drive, said Betty Works, co-owner of Segway of Jacksonville.

Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen said his department has no immediate plans to purchase Segways.

His department recently received a donation of several patrol bicycles, and funds are limited for extra expenses.

"We kind of feel we have transportation now for free, and we should use the bicycles before we buy Segways," Schoen said.

It's unclear how effective Segways would be in downtown Medford because similar vehicles such as skateboards are banned on sidewalks and vehicle lanes are relatively narrow, he said.

He said the Segways would likely be more useful in Medford parks and on the Bear Creek Greenway. Segways are powered by a rechargeable battery.

DeSilva said the gadget makes her more approachable, an important element of law enforcement.

"I had more contact with people yesterday than in the 14 years I've been patrolling this town," said DeSilva who usually patrols on bike or foot.

Her every move on the Segways turns heads, and curious tourists and locals approach her in wonderment.

"Seriously, what is that?" cried 28-year-old Sarah Kreisman, a Panama resident who was in Ashland Friday visiting her family. "How fast does that go?"

A Segway will go 15 mph, traversing pavement, bark and sand.

DeSilva brags to locals that she has been passing bikes.

"She doesn't look like a real cop on that thing," comments Ruthie Breneiser, a 15-year-old Ashland High School student who regularly hangs out on the Plaza and in Lithia Park. (Correction: See below.)

Some tourists beg to have their photo taken with DeSilva and the Segway.

But beyond intriguing the tourists, the Segway does enhance her ability to enforce the law by increasing her speed, and allowing access to information and range of vision, DeSilva said.

On the Segway, she can see more of what is happening around her and is free of the clumsy maneuvering associated with a bicycle.

Contrary to first appearance, driving the vehicle is not an exercise-free endeavor.

"Yesterday, I was so sore because of all the balancing," DeSilva said. "My legs were sore, and for the first time in my life, I'm taller than other people."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described Ruthie Breneiser's living situation. This version has been corrected.