In a borough already served by armoured vans, horses and helicopters, a vehicle ridiculed as a rolling lollipop has become the latest accessory in the fight against crime.

Police in Sutton are experimenting with a fleet of self-balancing Segway human transporters to patrol neighbourhoods over the next month.

The two-wheeled scooters roll up to 12.5mph and supposedly give officers more authority by raising them 8in off the ground.

At the launch on Monday afternoon, the Segways certainly gave new emphasis to high-visibility policing as startled high street shoppers stopped to film them on camera-phones.

Police Sergeant Stuart Taylor-Bard, from the Sutton safer neighbourhood team, said: "The reaction has been absolutely superb.

"The only problem is I can't get anywhere fast, because every second person is stopping me.

"It is a real ice-breaker to engage the public, which is a priority for our teams."

The Segway is already deployed on congested streets by the New York Police Department and the Italian Railway Police.

But in this country it is best known as the "idiot proof" machine that President George Bush tumbled off ingloriously at his parents' summer home.

Early public reaction recalled critiques of the electric three wheeler which Devon police dropped in 1999 after it was dubbed a "Noddy" car.

"It's just like the circus," one passer-by hollered at Sutton police riding Segways on their beat.

"They're having too much fun," another complained.

However, at least one reader saw potential benefits for the battery charged scooter of the future, which has a retail price of £3,800.

"Maybe the object is to disable the criminals with uncontrollable laughter while arresting them - kinder than a Taser gun," he suggested.

Riding a Segway is three times faster than walking but fugitives will be undeterred.

They can escape simply by heading for the nearest stairs.