Most commonly used by major metropolitan departments and state police agencies, police motorcycles have been mainstays in parade and escort functions, as well as off-road and highway safety enforcement.
Hollywood has recognized their place and appeal with such television shows as “CHiPS,” and movies such as “Electra Glide in Blue.” Recently, several manufacturers have announced or are shipping plug-in bikes that run on electric motors driven by high-powered batteries. Think “Tesla for motorcycles.”
With ever-present budgetary constraints, many smaller departments are exploring how 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 groundwork for some out-of-the-box thinking by department heads.
Here are some 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.
Some agencies have started using off-road bikes to patrol state, city and county parks and help search for remote marijuana grows.
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 who 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 a 5’5” officer.
3. Special considerations for patrol bikes
Patrol bikes are being asked to do more than ever and you need to ensure that whatever model you choose is up to the task.
In addition to the shotgun that has been mounted on patrol bikes for years, some agencies are adding a patrol rifle and a carrier vest with rifle-rated plates, spare magazines and a hemorrhage control kit.
You might want a bike that can be equipped with permanently mounted advanced RADAR or LIDAR technology.
And don’t forget about advanced communications capabilities, such as a small data terminal, radio booster or cellular hotspot – along with the antennas that they need. All of these electrical marvels may require a beefed-up electrical system to power them.
4. Questions to ask
As with any budget expenditure, many questions must be answered regarding its projected length of service and cost, as well as the 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 space is available for mounting additional gear and are there OEM or after-market mounts that meet the requirements?
- Has the manufacturer done any work to determine the best places to mount additional gear that won’t ruin the balance or handling of the bike?
- How much power is available to run electrical add-ons? Are there pre-wired taps or will the bike shop need to splice in their own harnesses?
- 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?
And what about a fully electric bike? A recent police pursuit in California came to a halt when the agency’s patrol car ran out of battery – so while useful for ceremonial missions and perhaps patrolling residential areas, electric bikes may not be ready for patrol.
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.