Putt-Putt Patrol : Law enforcement: For the next six months, scofflaws in Avalon may be literally carted off to jail. Sheriff's deputies will test whether a customized golf vehicle should be permanently added to their crime-fighting arsenal.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It may not stir fear in the hearts of the bad guys, but Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies on Santa Catalina Island swear by their newest anti-crime weapon: a golf cart.

Decked out with flashing lights, a shotgun rack, high-speed transmission and radio equipment, the formidable Yamaha Sun Classic is probably the fastest cart on the island, said Lt. Tom Gahry, manager of the sheriff's Avalon station.

The nine-foot-long cruiser, complete with a slick black-and-white paint job, was clocked at a top speed of 31 m.p.h. during its first day in service last week, Gahry said.

But when you're pursuing someone in a 1.2-square-mile town on an island with a handful of roads and where the number of cars is restricted, speed isn't necessarily a critical element. "Where are they going to go?" Gahry asked. "We'll get them eventually."

Maneuverability, however, can be a big plus.

And the cart is great for navigating the narrow alleyways of Avalon, as well as threading through the packed crowds of the town's main drag, said Sgt. Bob Wachsmuth, who last week took the two-seater cart for a spin on his patrol.

Perhaps the best thing about the cart is its price: free.

Catalina Yamaha has loaned the vehicle to the Avalon sheriff's station for a six-month trial period. The company hopes that if the cart proves a successful crime buster, the Sheriff's Department will buy a number of the vehicles for their mainland operations, said John Regalado, service manager of the island's Yamaha dealership.

Without all the police gadgets, the cart sells for about $8,000, Regalado said. The equipment and installation adds $4,000 to the price tag, police estimated.

Even townspeople and tourists are enjoying Avalon's latest attraction. "The vehicle warms up our image a little and it's in keeping with the ambience of the island and its tourism," said Gahry, who dresses in shorts and a polo shirt while on duty.

Kaya Brand, who was vacationing on Catalina far from his home in Switzerland, stared incredulously as he spied the cart last week. "It doesn't look serious, but I like it. It's cool."

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