The use of motorcycles by law enforcement has been a time-honored practice, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. Most commonly used by major metropolitan departments and state police agencies, they have been mainstays in parade and escort functions, as well as highway safety enforcement. Hollywood has recognized their place and appeal with such television shows as "CHIPS," and movies such as "Electra Glide in Blue."
With the current economic situation and budgetary constraints, many smaller departments are exploring ways to use a Motor Unit in both traditional and non-traditional ways. This, in turn, has expanded somewhat the range of Motor Unit options by manufacturers, as well laid the ground work for some out-of-the-box thinking by department heads.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re contemplating the acquisition of one or more motorcycles for your department.
1. Determine the function the motorcycle is going to serve
If the bike will be used for highway/interstate traffic enforcement, then rapid acceleration capability may be essential. If significant time in the saddle is in the forecast, bike comfort and weight come into play. If the primary function will be escort or parade duties, high and impressive visibility may take priority over a short quarter-mile time. If the bike is going to be used as an economical means to patrol residential areas, weight and speed may not be as important as basic agility and a quiet muffler.
2. Assess your available resources
Having determined what your needs are, you have to map back to your available resources. The cost of an outfitted police motorcycle can range approximately to that of a basic cruiser, or as little as four or five thousand dollars. But remember, you have to add in the costs of all the equipment needed to appropriately outfit each motor unit for the determined function. In terms of human resources, (who are available as prospective motor officers), if there are currently officers that have years of experience riding motorcycles similar to the size and model selected, you will not have to incur the cost of extended training that a novice rider would require. If appropriate riders are already on board, you must be sure you know their physical needs for a machine. Police bikes vary; not all are the same size, height, and design. What works for a 6’3” officer will not work as well for one who is 5’5.”
3. Questions to ask
As with any budget expenditure, many questions must be answered regarding its projected length of service and cost, as well as “total cost of ownership (TCO).” Here are a few questions to consider. There are many others to be sure, but this will get you going.
• What uniform and gear modifications or additions will be needed by each motor officer?
• If the existence of a Motor Unit is being tied into finances, will the machine last long enough (and get enough use) to justify its purchase?
• What is the warranty on the motorcycle?
• Will Police work void any part of that warranty?
• What is the location and speed of a competent dealership, including parts availability?
• How much and how often are the required maintenance services?
• What is the historical reliability of the bike?
• How will it be stored, and how will that affect reliability?
With proper research and analysis, utilization of a police motorcycle may help satisfy the desires of governing bodies looking for cost-effective law enforcement, as well as expand and improve the capabilities of the departments serving those communities.
Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing a police motorcycle? Please leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
PoliceOne Special Contributor Rob Hall, who serves as Chief of Police for the La Crosse (Va.) Police Department, contributed to this report.