(TULSA COUNTY, Okla.) -- The sheriff's office is making preparations for a motorcycle traffic patrol unit that officials hope will reduce the number of accidents in the unincorporated areas.
The sheriff's office received a $ 100,000 grant from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to purchase two Harley-Davidson police-model motorcycles, radar units for 25 patrols cars and the two motorcycles, communications equipment, helmets and overtime costs.
The department will move two full-time deputies to the new patrol unit and pay for their training and uniforms.
Sheriff Stanley Glanz said he believes his office was approved for its first-ever motorcycle unit because the number of accidents in unincorporated areas showed the need for more traffic enforcement. According to the Department of Public Safety's 1999 statistics of the state's 77 counties, Tulsa County ranked first with 200 non-incapacitating accidents and third with 61 incapacitating injury accidents. And though it was ranked 44th with four fatality accidents, the number of overall accidents put Tulsa County at the top of the crash list.
County commissioners questioned the need for such a unit in the past, saying they preferred patrol cars to motorcycles. They also weren't comfortable with the likelihood of future funding requests for full-time officers for the unit, injury claims against the county and the actual need for traffic enforcement in the areas cited by the sheriff's office that are near state and federal highways patrolled by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
The sheriff's office obtained the OHP's blessing in a letter saying that troopers didn't have enough time to enforce traffic laws in the rural areas and that there would be no conflict with deputies in enforcement efforts.
"They're working the wrecks, but they're not doing much on enforcement," Glanz said, "and they like to stay on the major highways and not the county highways."
Commissioners rejected the grant proposal initially but finally agreed on a proposal for two motorcycles and two Ford Crown Victorias. However, the sheriff's office was only funded for the motorcycles. Commissioner John Selph said that he doesn't question the need for traffic enforcement but doesn't necessarily think that motorcycles are the answer.
"I know they're dangerous," he said. "(The deputies who will ride the motorcycles) are going to a specific Harley-Davidson school, which is probably not a bad idea."
Selph said it works out to be about the same amount of money to purchase a patrol car as it does to buy a motorcycle and all the safety gear required for the rider. On the plus side, the motorcycles can be sold in a few years for at least as much as they cost.
Glanz said there is a need to work harder at traffic enforcement in order to see any results and that will be the primary duty of the two deputies assigned to the motorcycles.
Grants Coordinator David Tillotson said that areas of particular interest for traffic patrol are near school zones and the Cherokee Industrial Park area, southwest of Owasso. He also mentioned 66th Street North near U.S. 75, 86th Street North near Oklahoma 11 and Oklahoma 20 and North Memorial Drive in Collinsville.
"The Highway Patrol tells us anything off U.S. 75 up north is a problem area. The highest trouble areas are north, but we will work traffic in all three districts," Tillotson said. "The big deal right now is speeding on county roads."
Tillotson said the bikes are estimated to cost between $13,000 to $14,000 each and that it will take three months to a year to receive them according to bid specifications that have yet to be advertised. Tillotson said the grant is for one year and another grant has been sought to continue the program for the overtime hours.
Though two deputies have not been selected for the bike unit yet, Tillotson said that some officers who already ride motorcycles have expressed an interest. Glanz said he had no plans to hire two additional deputies.