The Case for Motors

Motorcycle units enhance public safety and improve law enforcement presence

By David Kinaan  |   Sep 17, 2015
Photo Courtesy Georgetown (Texas) PD

From time to time, I am asked why motorcycles are used in modern law enforcement when they can be so dangerous. Recently, an administrator asked me this very question, qualifying that, in his opinion, motorcycles are dangerous.

I couldn’t agree more: Motorcycles are dangerous. So are guns. Running after criminals with guns is even more dangerous. I don’t even want to talk about how dangerous charging into a bar fight or walking into a domestic dispute can be. With few exceptions, most aspects of law enforcement work are dangerous. It’s always has been and will continue to be dangerous. The key to keeping officers safe—and maintaining public safety—is recognizing the danger and preparing for them to the extent possible.

Risky Business

You wouldn’t deploy an officer with a sidearm or deploy an officer to deal with a potentially violent encounter without first training and qualifying the officer. The officer will attend a 20-plus-week-long academy to learn how to deal with dangerous situations. The officer will train and certify in handgun skills, less-lethal weapons, dispute resolution and many other aspects of law enforcement long before they ever hit the streets.

And it’s ongoing. The officer will attend refresher training at regular intervals throughout their career. They will shoot and qualify at regular intervals, all to manage and mitigate the risks associated with the job. This enhances both officer and public safety. It’s the same with riding motorcycles.   

Time and time again, I hear of a department where an officer is deployed to perform their duties on a motorcycle without first attending an enforcement motorcycle academy. Additionally, some officers who attend an enforcement motorcycle school are deployed without any break-in training and/or never receive any update or refresher training.

Many will never have to re-qualify or demonstrate proficiency in their skills to remain assigned to motorcycle duty. Yet without adequate initial training and absent substantial update training, you can easily predict something will go wrong, in turn leading another administrator to label motorcycles as dangerous and calling for the removal of motorcycles from police work.

Safety by Design

I recently attended a meeting of California Commission on POST’s SAFE (Situation Aware Focused and Educated) Driving MOTORS (Motor Officer Training and Operations Review for Safety) Advisory Group. The group is assembled of several of the top motorcycle academy instructors in California.

Although there are varying opinions on motorcycle brands and riding styles, the group is unanimous and united in their desire to set minimum guidelines and best practices for initial and recurrent motorcycle training. I’m honored and privileged to be a part of this group.

Motorcycles provide an essential tool in modern law enforcement that cannot be replaced with any other deployment. Motorcycles can respond to incidents where a patrol car can’t reach and where a bicycle is impractical. Motorcycles are especially well suited for traffic enforcement and traffic control duties. They can easily weave through gridlocked traffic and various other obstacles to quickly assess a situation, render aid and begin to mitigate incidents.

The safe and efficient use of a motorcycle unit begins with staffing. Select your motorcycle officers based on the officer’s history of maturity and good judgement. A candidate for motorcycle duty should have a solid background in officer safety and view the motorcycle as a specialized enforcement tool.

Choose officers who have gotten past viewing the motorcycle as a status symbol. Don’t get me wrong, riding motorcycles is a huge boost to the pride and ego of an officer, but selecting an officer who is mature enough to let that sense of pride be reflected in their skill and appearance, rather than their attitude, will go a long ways in building the safety record of your motorcycle unit.

As with everything in modern law enforcement, training plays a big role in creating and maintaining a safe motorcycle unit. Officers should attend a minimum 80-hour enforcement motorcycle academy before ever deploying on a motorcycle. Upon successful completion of the two-week motorcycle school, the officer should receive some type of break-in training.  The new motorcycle officer will need that break-in training to learn how to adapt their academy training to the real world. This is also the time when their judgement can be tested and adjusted by a seasoned motorcycle officer.

Once the motorcycle officer is working on their own, refresher and update training will be key in maintaining their safety, as well as the safety of the motoring public.  Essential skills, such as emergency braking and brake-and-evade techniques, begin to erode quickly when they are not used. An officer should attend regularly scheduled training in order to maintain these and other essential skills associated with the safe operation of the police motorcycle.

Conclusion

We all know voluntary compliance with the law, especially traffic laws, is key in maintaining public safety. It also goes a long way in promoting officer safety. We can all likely remember a time when we observed a motorcycle officer issuing a citation and subsequently drove a little better with that image in our mind.

The positive effects of a well-trained, properly equipped and safely deployed motorcycle unit will quickly become the flagship, and enhance the pride, of any law enforcement agency.

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David Kinaan

David Kinaan

Sgt. David Kinaan retired in 2012 as the supervisor of the California Highway Patrol Academy's Motorcycle Training Unit. Kinaan was an active member of the CHP for 29 years and started riding enforcement motorcycles for the CHP in 1989. He served in the Central Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, Westminster and North Sacramento Areas before coming to the Academy's Motorcycle Training Unit in 2008. Kinaan has published articles on motorcycle safety and motorcycle training in various public safety and civilian media outlets. He also consults with various entities throughout the nation, and provides expert witness testimony, on all matters related to motorcycle operations in enforcement and emergency services. Kinaan is currently a Quality Assurance Technician with Kawasaki Motors Corporation and is involved in the rework modification and testing of Kawasaki's ZG1400 Police Motorcycle.
David Kinaan

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