Motorcycle units, or “motors” as they are known, have been around just about as long as motorcycles. Departments all around the world quickly realized the benefits of motorcycles in policing, in fact some departments have units that have been in operation for more than 100 years.
The use of motorcycles by police, however, is in a state of constant change. Just because Department A has a motor unit doesn’t mean that their duties, responsibilities and operational procedures are the same as Department B. while one department may use motors strictly for traffic control and VIP escorts, another uses fast sports bikes for high speed highway enforcement, while still another uses police bikes outfitted with weaponry for tactical work.
By all accounts, the use of motorcycles in US policing is on the upswing as departments across the country re-discover the benefits of motor units.
Tactics: Traffic and speed enforcement
“The motorcycle for law enforcement is a fickle beast,” Jeff Capps, president and owner, Motor One, admits. “There are a lot of departments that don’t understand what a motorcycle unit can do. Many departments think that you can only ride a few months out of the year and that’s just not true. You can ride year-round as long as there isn’t ice on the ground.
“If you can give me five or six guys and put them on motors, the impact you can have on traffic is unbelievable,” he continues. “Traffic is one of the biggest benefits. Safety is the biggest thing: inattentive driving, lane changing without signaling. If you are sitting in a traffic jam in a patrol car and see something, it’s hard to get to the offender. On a motorcycle, you can lane split to them and pull them over. You can have an immediate effect. You can event pull over on the shoulder or on the sidewalk and observe traffic.”
Some departments, like the Oklahoma State Police, put their troopers on Suzuki Hayabusas, one of the fastest production motorcycles in the world, in order to do high speed traffic stops.
“We currently have two 2006 Hayabusas outfitted with Corbin bags and smuggler, Stalker moving radar, red and blue emergency lights and sirens, all paid for by drug asset forfeiture money,” says Clint Riddle, Hayabusa Motorcycle Enforcement Trooper, Oklahoma State Police. “The Captain and I also attended Keith Code California Superbike School for additional training. The Hayabusas have been and still are a great PR tool for us in every aspect imaginable and has also helped other agencies. I have had motor officers tell me that sport bike riders that would run from them now don't dare. The greatest thing is that they allow us to make contact and have conversations with the sport bike community, which gives us the foot in the door to visit about safety.”
The Baton Rouge, LA motor unit, which has been in place since 1923, has seen an increase in aggressive behavior towards its officers in recent years. “10 years ago, violators fled the scene to avoid contact with or apprehension by law enforcement,” says Sgt. David Wallace from Baton Rouge PD. “Today, we are seeing a growing trend of active aggression towards police. Motorcycle officers are 100 percent exposed and are the most vulnerable of any division in a police department. Motor officers do not only need to be concerned with our riding ability (accident avoidance, hazard recognition, etc.) but we must be concerned with defending gunfire and using our equipment to the best advantage. Each motor officer must attend and successfully complete our Motor Survival Class. This class teaches officers to use their motorcycle as cover and concealment, and to accurately return gunfire to eliminate any threats.”
When you have dignitaries come in, the motor unit can do the escorts themselves. Many departments have started motor units for traffic and developed them into units for escorts as well.