Ballistic testing on a BMW R 1200 RT-P
Test results can be used to develop motorcycle law enforcement officer tactics for hostile confrontations
The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) recently conducted ballistic performance testing on the motorcycle platform we currently use in the motor unit, the BMW R RT-P. To our knowledge, this testing has not been performed on a BMW motorcycle.
The testing was designed to determine if the motorcycle provides suitable cover against projectiles and if so, where on the motorcycle is the best cover available. Nine different rounds were shot at the motorcycle in each of three different motorcycle positionings.
This testing validated the tactics we train our motor officers to use in a deadly force situation with a few modifications from the test. Tests results can be used to develop motorcycle law enforcement officer tactics used for hostile confrontations.
When making traffic stops or other interactions with motorists, there is little or no information about the subject(s) being encountered, such as their criminal history, mindset and means to carry out any bad intentions. Therefore, motor officers need to be prepared as much as possible on every stop for unknown risks.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data indicates that from 2016-2020, 31 officers were reported as feloniously killed while making traffic stops or assisting motorists. The location of 25 of the 31 officers was categorized. Of those 25, 44% were killed on the approach to, or return from the offender’s vehicle and 28% were killed at or in the vicinity of the officer’s vehicle.
Because of the dangerous nature of traffic stops, the ballistic capabilities of the motorcycle must be better understood to make the best decision on when and how an officer should use their motorcycle for cover and concealment during a deadly force encounter. Due to its size and physical makeup, the motorcycle may not be the best cover available but for law enforcement motorcycle operators it is always available.
HISTORY OF MOTORCYCLE BALLISTIC TESTING
In the 1990s, Sergeant Jim Polan with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department performed ballistic testing firing a variety of rounds at a Kawasaki KZ1000 motorcycle to determine the effectiveness of cover the motorcycle affords a motor officer during a deadly force encounter.
The rounds ranged from .380 ball ammo to .223 armor-piercing rounds, with surprisingly effective results. Only three rounds out of a total of 48 shot penetrated through the motorcycle to hit paper silhouettes on the other side, which represented possible positions an officer could be located.
It was noted where the rounds impacted the motorcycle and may have penetrated those initial parts, with 94% being stopped somewhere prior to exiting the opposite side or missing the targets. The test validated training to use the motorcycle for cover.
Sergeant Polan also performed the testing around 2010 on a Harley Davidson FLHTP at Florida’s Public Safety Institute with similar results for penetration, although the motorcycle did catch fire.
The Kawasaki KZ1000 was a metal component motorcycle with a parallel 4-cylinder motor. The Harley is also comprised of more metal than some other platforms with a V-twin motor. The BMW R RT-P is the currently preferred platform of the FWPD. It is, however, a largely plastic panel motorcycle with an opposing twin-cylinder motor. The purpose of our testing was to see firsthand the ballistic protection offered by the BMW R RT-P. The results would either validate our current training using the motorcycle as a possible tool to protect our officers or re-think and change the way we train to give our motorcycle officers the best protection possible.
Testing was performed on August 31, 2021, at an outdoor range at Tac Pro Shooting Center in Mingus, Texas.
The vehicle tested was a 2018 BMW R 1200 RT-P fully equipped FWPD police motorcycle minus the radar system. The motorcycle was filled ¾ full of unleaded fuel in the gas tank. A heavy winter jacket was placed in the top radio box. The saddlebags or panniers contained materials likely to be carried by motor officers such as plastic water bottles, paper magazines and extra clothing.
The following ammunition was used for testing:
- .380 ACP 95gr ball
- 9mm 124gr ball
- .40 S&W 180gr ball
- .45 ACP 230gr ball
- 10mm 155gr HP
- 5.56mm NATO XM193 55gr
- 5.56mm NATO M855 62gr (green tip)
- 7.62x39mm 124gr ball
- 7.62x51mm NATO M80 ball
Table 1 shows velocity data.
Three different positionings of the police motorcycle were tested to evaluate ballistic penetration. One shot from each of the above calibers was fired into the motorcycle for each motorcycle position.
Position one is typically used by the FWPD motor officer, angling the front of the motorcycle on its side stand to the right behind a violator’s vehicle.
The second position was the same angle as position one, but the motorcycle in a downed position on its left side to simulate a tactical dismount or a side stand failure.
Position three was the motorcycle pointed directly toward the threat on its side stand.
All shots for the three positions were made from approximately 25 feet away and at an angle that would be typical of a deadly force encounter between a violator in a traffic stop scenario from their driver’s door and a motor officer parked behind the violator’s vehicle.
An approximately 12-foot wide by 7-foot tall cardboard backstop with plywood support was placed behind the police motorcycle to record penetrations through and shrapnel hits behind the police motorcycle.
Of the nine different calibers shot, three rounds penetrated through the motorcycle that likely could have incapacitated the motor officer using the motorcycle for cover.
The .40 caliber ball initially struck the right headlight and exited between the front fairing and radiator fan port.
The 10mm ball's initial impact was the left saddlebag, then exited through the bottom of the left saddlebag. The 10mm ball was determined to strike the ground, ricocheting off and in the process, kicking up a rock to dent the cardboard making no mark in the plywood backing.
The 7.62x51 NATO initial impact was below the front left of the radio box and exited through the top of the right wheel well.
We saw one possible incapacitating hit in position two. The .380 ball round initially impacted the top left saddlebag and exited the bottom of the left saddlebag. The round hit the ground behind the motorcycle, deflected off and kicked up a rock that dented the cardboard but did not penetrate the plywood.
No incapacitating hits were recorded in position three. One hit to the large cardboard backing by shrapnel was recorded from the 9mm. This hit would not have struck the officer as it would be above the officer’s head even if the officer was standing behind the motorcycle. The 9mm ball ammo entered through the top of the left headlight lens which created shrapnel that penetrated the cardboard but not the plywood.
Table 2 shows shot records:
Ten 5.56 green tip rounds were fired straight into the bottom of the windshield above the headlight with no penetration. A 7.62x39 round was then fired slightly above the previous rounds and exited above the speedometer and tachometer. Results show that if a round hits approximately 6 inches from the top of the dashboard directly to the front of the motorcycle, penetration is not likely through the motorcycle.
The motorcycle was then placed sideways and 9mm speer gold dot 124 gr JHP was fired into the side to test for penetration. Three shots were placed laterally into the rear radio box lid resulting in three penetrations through the other side. Then three shots were placed laterally into the saddlebag with the most rearward shot penetrating through the other side. Two of the saddlebag shots did not exit the other side. A round was fired into the gray triangle-shaped pop in body panel that penetrated through the other side. Then, a single round was shot into the forward side panel between the vertical bar and cylinder head with no penetration. Two rounds were then fired into the gray body panel with no penetration. Three shots were fired into the side front fairing with no penetration.
A nine-layer Twaron ballistic panel was then placed in front of the rear radio box and the same three 9mm gold dot rounds were fired into the panel with no penetration through the panel. The panel was then placed in front of the right saddlebag. Again, three 9mm gold dot rounds were fired into the panel with no penetration through the panel. Without moving the panel, three 5.56 ball rounds were fired into the panel. All three rounds penetrated the panel but were stopped by the motorcycle and no rounds went through the motorcycle into the cardboard.
Ballistic testing on helmet
A Shoei Neotec modular helmet was placed in front of the cardboard/plywood. A .380 ball was fired into the front center of the helmet above the face shield. The .380 round penetrated through the front of the helmet but did not penetrate through the rear of the helmet. Then two 9mm ball ammo rounds were fired at the helmet. The first shot was to the right side of the helmet with the second shot through the front of the closed clear face shield. Both rounds penetrated all the way through the helmet, exiting through the other side.
Motorcycle positioning concerning traffic stops to the right side of the roadway
Prior to this testing, FWPD motor officers were trained, when possible, to angle their motorcycle 30-45 degrees approximately 15-20 feet behind the violator’s vehicle with the motorcycle pointed in the direction of the violator's right rear. The officer dismounts on the right (high) side, which affords the safety of dismounting away from traffic if on the right side of the roadway, as well as protection from the violator with the motorcycle between the officer and the violator. It also diminishes the possibility of the motorcycle falling towards the officer because of a side stand failure.
Of the three positions tested, position three would have had no hits to an officer using the motorcycle for cover. This position was the front of the motorcycle pointed straight at the threat, resting on its side stand. Position one (front left of the motorcycle exposed directly to the threat) resulted in the most potential hits to a motor officer with three possible incapacitating hits. The downed motorcycle position two resulted in one potential incapacitating hit to an officer with a round glancing off the ground.
Post testing, the FWPD Motor Unit recommends officers continue angling the motorcycle toward the right rear of the violator’s vehicle but with a decreased angle of approximately 10 degrees. This would still allow the officer to dismount on the right and quickly take cover next to the motorcycle, as well as keep the motorcycle positioned between the violator and officer. By decreasing the angle of the motorcycle behind the violator, the motorcycle’s ballistic properties can be increased as seen in position three with the motorcycle pointed straight at the violator that resulted in no recorded hit to the officer.
Although the downed motorcycle position two resulted in only one possible hit to the officer, it is not a recommended position. For the officer to fight around and not over cover, the motor officer would have to be in a prone position, which limits the officer’s mobility to fend off an advancing attacker.
Officer’s positioning for cover and concealment behind the motorcycle
Partially because of the increased ballistic protection the front of the motorcycle offers, we recommend officers take cover behind the front of the motorcycle vs. the rear of the motorcycle.
Another reason for the forward position is emergency lighting. Leaving the rear lights on during a traffic stop provides some protection to roadway traffic for the motor officer. The rear lights will also significantly hinder the forward visibility for an officer who is using the rear of the motorcycle for cover and concealment.
These are general recommendations to be used as a baseline to build upon as situations vary.
The police motorcycle helmet offers almost no ballistic protection. A helmet is a large object that can draw the offender’s attention to the location of the officer. The helmet does contain communication equipment that may be necessary. Removing the helmet could possibly take time and vital attention away from the threat.
We suggest that removing the helmet is an individual choice based on the situation that is faced. Each situation is different and what may make sense in one situation may not make sense in another.
The BMW R 1200 RT-P offers substantial cover when it is the best cover available. The front of the motorcycle offers increased protection with the metal mass it possesses. The rear of the motorcycle offers less ballistic protection and emergency lighting from the motorcycle will hinder the officer’s forward vision.
Motor officers may choose to layer the inside of areas that offer less protection with used ballistic vest material until a custom fit armor is available for more protection.
Fight around and not over cover as less of the officer’s vitals are exposed. Don’t suck up to cover but move back 1-2 feet as this will offer more mobility and make the officer a smaller target.
Train for using the motorcycle and other objects for cover and concealment with duty uniform and helmet as it will give the law enforcement motorcycle officer a baseline to build upon should a deadly force situation occur.