Wash. motorcycle officers could get safer ride

By Stacey Mulick
The Tacoma News Tribune

TACOMA, Wash. — Tacoma police commanders want to replace most of the department's motorcycle fleet a few years early to give officers a safer bike to ride.

The department has asked the city for $200,000 toward that effort. The request is part of City Manager Eric Anderson's recommendations for the 2007-08 budget adjustment.

The proposal: Police want to replace their 18 Kawasaki Police 1000 motorcycles with 16 2008 Harley-Davidson Road King motorcycles.

Why: When the department bought the Kawasaki motorcycles in 2001 and 2002, they weren't equipped with an anti-lock brake system. In 2004, the department replaced some older motorcycles and bought six Harley-Davidson Road Kings.

At that time, ABS was an optional feature for law enforcement on the Road King model, and Tacoma equipped its bikes with the system, said assistant chief Jim Howatson. ABS is now a standard feature on Harley's motorcycles.

The advantage of ABS: They stop motorcycles in 40 percent less space than bikes without anti-lock brakes, Howatson said.

"They've been super efficient," he said.

ABS would have come in handy when a Tacoma police officer hit a car that turned in front of him in February, Howatson said.

The officer had his motorcycle's emergency lights on because he was trying to make a traffic stop. He was hurt in the crash on South 12th Street at South Pine Street when the motorcycle hit the rear of the car.

"Had he been riding a motorcycle with ABS, he would not have collided with the car," Howatson said.

The normal replacement process: The motorcycles usually are replaced based on age, mileage and service record. Each bike normally lasts 80,000 miles or eight years.

The urgency now: The motorcycle accident in February sparked Howatson into action.

"It makes you stop and think," he said.

Riding a police motorcycle is a high-risk occupation, Howatson said. There have been at least three motorcycle police fatalities and five serious injury accidents in the region in the past 15 years, Howatson said.

"We are doing everything we can to reduce that risk," Howatson said. "We just want to make sure we have the best safety technology for our officers."

Cost: Each Harley is $22,000. The total cost for 16 Harleys is $352,000. The bikes come fully equipped and striped with the Police Department's logo.

Paying for it: The department is using $135,000 from its motorcycle replacement fund and $17,000 from the resale of the Kawasakis. The department needs another $200,000 from the city.

Timeline: The City Council is to adopt the 2007-08 budget adjustment Dec. 11.

Howatson said that as soon as the purchase order is signed, the department will order the motorcycles. They should be delivered about 45 days later.

The traffic unit: 16 officers and two sergeants ride motorcycles for the department. Their main focus is to enforce traffic laws within the city limits. They also respond to serious injury and deadly accidents.

Copyright 2007 Tacoma News Tribune

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