Penn. police train on dirt bikes
By Caryl Clarke
HANOVER, Penn. — Police Sgt. Jack Greene hoisted his leg over the chassis of a new, white motorcycle dirt bike Thursday, pulled on black gloves, fastened a white helmet under his chin, and demonstrated how to handle an incline when it gets too steep.
"It's a controlled way to get yourself off a hill that's too steep for you or your bike or that scares you," Greene, a certified dirt bike instructor, told two fellow Southwestern Regional Police officers who had volunteered for training.
Officers Stu Harrison and Bryn Lindenmuth then both mastered the maneuver on two lighter-weight dirt bikes belonging to other people that were brought along for the day's training.
The Southwestern Suzuki has a 400 cubic-inch engine compared to the 250 cubic-inch engine of the conventional dirt bikes, Harrison said.
He and Lindenmuth reported at 7 a.m. for about six hours of training on the department's new bike, an unusual mode of transportation for county police departments.
Greene walked to another site behind the police station in Heidelberg Township, again stood on his footrests, drove up a hill and around an orange marker while moving his hips and knees to maintain control, then stopped midway down the hill between two other orange markers.
It looked easy when Harrison took his turn on the hairpin curve on a regular dirt bike. Lindenmuth fell off the department's new bike two times in the curve. Greene coached him to keep the throttle steady.
"This bike is heavy," Greene said. "Once you are off balance, you stay off balance."
Lindenmuth resorted to the plain dirt bike and had no trouble rounding the curve.
"That's why you taught us first how to control a bike on a hill," he said to Greene.
Back in the parking lot while lashing the three bikes in wagons behind vans, Lindenmuth asked with a laugh, "Did you see my controlled roll off the bike?"
They headed into a 200-acre pine woods with dirt and rubble paths, hills and a stream for further training.
Seeking an alternative
Southwestern Police Chief Greg Bean said he and Greene had been researching alternatives to cruiser patrol. Spring Grove wanted bicycle cops. Farmers wanted police to protect their crops with ATVs. Bean and Greene settled on the dual-purpose motorcycle dirt bike.
They are used in Philadelphia; Billerica, Mass.; Baltimore; California; and New Mexico, Greene said.
"They are cheap and efficient," he said. "They get 60 miles a gallon, which is environmentally friendly, and they are cheap to maintain."
Bean saw many uses for the bike.
"People don't expect to see an officer on two wheels, so we can see things we would not see in a patrol vehicle," Bean said.
Officers can pull into a commercial or farm area, park in a secluded spot and check things out on foot, Bean said.
To distinguish the bike from regular motorcycles, it has been painted white with prominent black graphics identifying the department. It has lights to assure residents it is a police vehicle and an equipment box mounted on the back.
"This takes us places cars can't," Greene said.
Bean said he, too, had received the safety training.
"I wanted to know for myself the benefits because sometimes I am available when the officers are not," Bean said. "I haven't hit a tree yet, so I am happy with the program so far."
HOW THEY GOT THE BIKE:
Southwestern Regional Police applied for a state grant that state Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury Township, and state Rep. Bev Mackereth, R-Spring Grove, awarded. It covered the cost of a cruiser, a dual purpose motorcycle dirt bike, a utility trailer, safety gear for the officers, special microphones so they can communicate from the bike, and training.
Sgt. Jack Greene became a certified instructor through the Honda Off-Road Safety Course at the Honda Training Center at Colton, Calif., and is in the process of training officers on how to ride a dirt bike in various terrains.
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