Starting a motor unit for your department

Editor's Note: The following article first appeared on the Syverson Says blog, presented by Setcom, and is reprinted by permission of Jon Syverson. Prior to entering the private sector, Jon served as a police motorcycle officer with the East Troy Police Department and has also served as Editor-in-Chief of the nationally-recognized law enforcement magazine “THE MOUNTED OFFICER.” Jon is also a member of the Advisory Board for Concerns of Police Survivors. We want to thank Jon and his team at Setcom for the excellent work they do to support law enforcement, and we look forward to bringing to our members more articles from Jon Syverson ...down the road. 

By Jon Syverson

Step One So, you’re thinking about starting a motor unit within your agency. Maybe the department had motorcycles in the past (around 1963) and given the price of gasoline today has a renewed interest in motors. What a great concept: fuel economy. There’s also the very real likelihood that several of your officers may already ride, a natural contributing factor, but don’t take it for granted that those officers will be your most effective and productive motor officers. There may also be a real need for an aggressive traffic enforcement program in your jurisdiction. After all, traffic congestion continues to grow and is a real problem in most areas. A solid traffic enforcement program, which essentially works to address lesser offenses, actively contributes to the control all manner of potential criminal offenses or activities.

Why Motorcycles? Motorcycles offer a unique advantage to squad cars. They can work in tight, confined spaces where you can’t place a squad, positioned for immediate response to traffic offenses. There are so many uses for motorcycles, ranging from red-light enforcement, basic traffic, dignitary escort, speeding, DUI enforcement, etc. Most importantly, on a motorcycle you’re definitely “close-to-the-customer,” and can easily converse and effectively communicate with the public. In short, motorcycles are also a positive public relations tool with the general public.

Planning Starting a motor unit is a great deal of work, please don’t think otherwise. There will be a great deal of effort involved in your start-up. Naturally, there’s budget and personnel considerations but also the development of a standard operating procedure (SOP) which other allied agencies may be able to provide. Your policy needs to address all operating practices of the unit, or the envisioned “mission.” Again, your neighboring agencies might be helpful to you as they may already have an SOP to use as a template; you should review and adjust it to your needs although it’s likely that they have already addressed most areas of concern.

Next Steps Based on my years of being involved on the ground floor with many agencies acting to start motor units, I believe the greatest challenge facing those agencies is the failure to plan. What’s that old saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s certainly true with regard to motor units. Some of the other related topics you’ll need to address include:
• Motorcycles (brand/model)
• Outfitting the motorcycles (emergency option equipment)
• Radio communications (including helmet communication systems)
• Did I mention budget and personnel? BTW, the most effective motor officers are your best performing patrol officers today
• Training of those officers. Do not start a motor unit without having your officers properly trained
• Riding apparel (Trust me, it’s a long list and a topic for another time)
• Duty tours and hours of operation
• Seasonality/temperature
• Rain
• Your idea here

Training Motor Officers must receive the proper training. Riding a fully-equipped police model motorcycle in an enforcement capacity is radically different from pleasure riding. There are many solid motor officer training programs available today. Some of the best basic and instructor programs are those conducted under the auspices of Northwestern University Center for Public Safety. Motor Officer training courses are also available at the Institute of Police Technology and Management in Jacksonville, FL which also conducts noteworthy motor officer training courses. In addition, there are many other agencies which conduct their own training and will often act to train your officers at little or no charge. Some of the best I’m aware of include the Milwaukee Police Department and the U.S. Park Police, Washington, D.C.. In the past both agencies have trained officers at no-charge.

Certainly there are many other “cooperative” departments offering competent instructors and effective training, and we offer a listing of such training throughout the states. Click here for training near you, and let us know of others to post.

Use Please keep in mind that motorcycles are best used during daylight hours and when it’s not raining. In short, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. That is, spare squads or the ability to revert to two-person squads is always a good idea.

Implementation Again, if you plan effectively and work to institute your program in a well-defined and managed fashion you’ll quickly have an effective and productive program, which will act to complement existing traffic enforcement.

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