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Planning and Instituting a Motorcycle Patrol Unit

Identifying Role and Goal Setting 

A successful motorcycle patrol unit requires the assignment of qualified personnel, the purchase of quality equipment, and the establishment of appropriate management direction. Therefore, the decision to start such a unit requires a long-term commitment from management. A decision that often is scrutinized. 

Such a unit however, can contribute significantly towards extremely effective public relations, can resolve specific problems that cannot be handled by a normal patrol vehicle, and can provide additional career opportunities for patrol officers. 

The decision to start a motorcycle unit should not be made lightly. Agency planners should conduct an exhaustive budget review, cost benefit analysis, and forecast available resources before moving forward with implementation. A feasibility study may also be necessary to identify the benefits a motorcycle unit will bring to a particular agency. 

In establishing a motorcycle patrol unit, begin by defining the role of the unit. If a traffic unit is already established and working within the agency, the role of the motorcycle patrol unit must be properly established within that unit. This will require agency planners and development personnel to develop clear, precise goals for the unit. The unit must be functional and able to accomplish the goals that fulfill the role set forth by the agency. The agency's policy will need to be re-written to govern all aspects of the motorcycle patrol unit. The policy must be written in such a manner as to allow the unit to attain its goals. The unit policy should be comprehensive and cover all aspects of the unit's mission. Furthermore, the policy should take into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of the motorcycle unit. 

Once the role of the motorcycle unit has been established, size and staffing decisions can be made. For a medium to large law enforcement agency, agency planners and development personnel should be prepared and plan for at least six motor officers and a supervising officer. 

Staffing Considerations 

Personnel considerations should by made early in the planning stage. After a decision is made regarding the number of officers that will be assigned to the unit, training and equipment needs can be addressed. A motorcycle patrol unit assignment, however, is not for everyone. Officers considered for the assignment should have extensive line experience. In addition, they should be self-motivated, mature, safety-oriented, capable of making good decisions, and physically able to handle the assignment. The selection criteria should not be based on civilian riding experience, which can have little merit if a good training program is in place. An inexperienced rider will often outperform the experienced rider at the end of the training period. Respect for the motorcycle and the department's goals appear to outweigh riding experience. 


Training is imperative for motorcycle officers. If training is not emphasized, a motorcycle unit should not be considered. Many law enforcement training institutions offer different levels of law enforcement motorcycle rider training. Most range from basic to advanced rider courses, with some offering instructor level courses. Certain law enforcement agencies with established motorcycle units have the capability to train officers in-house. These agencies will often offer to train officers from allied agencies at little or no cost. At a minimum, annual re-certification should be required and an in-service training regime should also be considered. In those areas where it is not possible or practical to operate motorcycles year round (i.e. inclement weather), refresher courses should be considered essential in order to renew operator skills prior to the beginning of the riding season. Also, many agencies find it beneficial to train department personnel as police motorcycle instructors. Many motorcycle officers, who hone their riding skills to a fine edge compete in police motorcycle skills competitions and demonstrations. In many instances, these events draw crowds, and have become good platforms to encourage interaction between the public and law enforcement personnel on traffic safety issues. Even so, before a training regimen is adopted, agency training personnel should ensure that the training institutions and curriculum are appropriate. With this in mind, agencies may even want to require that all applicants have some type of basic rider skills training before starting law enforcement rider training. 

Duty Tours 

A motorcycle patrol unit works best on a weekday shift assignment. Traffic congestion is normally heavier during the workweek, which maximizes the versatility of the motorcycle. Weekend shifts may be used for special events, such as dignitary protection, holiday weekends or special events. Other weekend deployments may include saturation patrols for specific enforcement goals. Motorcycle patrol units should avoid late-night shifts or any activity during the hours of darkness. The decreased nighttime visibility of the police motorcycle detracts from its effectiveness, and the added visibility restriction placed on the operator can lead to unnecessary patrol vehicle collisions and possible injury. 

Inclement weather can also reduce the effectiveness of the motorcycle unit. If the temperature drops below 35 degrees (Fahrenheit), the risk to the motor officer increases dramatically. Many jurisdictions that experience a harsh winter do not attempt to operate their motor units at all during this period. Some of the agencies contacted for this publication stated that their riding season typically runs from late March or early April until early or late November. While certain agencies equip their motorcycles with sidecars to add stability during winter months, alternative transportation should be made available to motorcycle patrol officers during cold weather months. Rain is generally not a problem if the proper equipment is provided to the motor officer. 

Equipping a Motorcycle Patrol Unit 

The first equipment decision is to select the primary type of motorcycle that the unit will use. It may be desirable to purchase a motorcycle that is specifically designed for law enforcement use. There are motorcycle manufacturers that produce models for law enforcement service. Purchasing decisions regarding the makes and models of motorcycles will vary with each agency, depending on such considerations as budget, dealer availability, and proximity to maintenance services. Agency planners should conduct extensive research based on these criteria before selecting a make and model of motorcycle. Certain manufacturers offer lease programs, which some agencies find cost effective. While specific law enforcement models of motorcycles may be desirable, some agencies have chosen to use civilian models, effectively putting them into service as a law enforcement motorcycle. 

Due to the restricted space on a motorcycle, special equipment is needed. Typically, the side saddlebags are used for storage and the rear center box is used for an officer's radio and other electronic equipment, including emergency warning equipment. Emergency warning equipment designed for four-wheeled police vehicles is typically not applicable to motorcycle duty. Many of the manufacturers of emergency warning equipment produce items specifically for use on motorcycles, including mobile data terminals, strobe units, radio equipment, and audio warning equipment. 

Given that traffic enforcement will be the primary function of a motorcycle patrol unit, speed-measuring devices are typically purchased for each unit. Depending on the role of the unit, mounted radar units may be desirable. These units offer the ability to conduct speed monitoring while in the patrol or moving mode in addition to the stationary mode. Some manufacturers of speed-measuring devices will recommend specific models for motorcycle installation. Other agencies find it desirable to use stationary handheld radar or laser speed-monitoring devices. Most manufacturers have complete lines of both types of units that include cordless rechargeable hand held units, which may be more desirable for motorcycle applications. 

Motorcycles also must be properly maintained. Agency vehicle maintenance personnel should be consulted during the planning stages if the vehicles are to be serviced in-house. In many cases, the equipment needed to perform maintenance on motorcycles differs from that needed for four-wheeled vehicles. For example, the agency may need to upgrade or re-tool its vehicle maintenance program. Adding motorcycles to the agency's fleet may also require additional training of fleet service personnel. This training and re-tooling can be costly. Research into off-site maintenance and repair may prove more cost effective in the early stages of the implementation of the motorcycle patrol unit. A plan to upgrade service equipment and train service personnel can then be implemented over time. 

Motorcycle Patrol Officer 
Riding Equipment

Motorcycle officer equipment will differ from that of other personnel. Motorcycle officers will need specific riding safety equipment, such as a quality motorcycle helmet that complies with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards No. 218.1 And, for communications purposes, agencies should consider a helmet radio transmission system, which greatly improves a motorcycle patrol officer's ability to communicate. These systems typically include a noise-canceling microphone, push-to-talk button on handlebar, and interface with the police radio system. With a system of this type, motorcycle patrol officer's transmissions will be clearer and the officer does not have to let go of the handle bar to activate the radio. 

Many agencies maintain the traditional mounted style uniform for motorcycle patrol officers. Tradition aside, the uniform is functional for the motorcycle patrol officer. Tall boots can protect the officer's feet and lower legs from rocks and other projectiles encountered on the roadway. The riding boots are normally sixteen or seventeen inches in height. Motorcycle patrol officers often wear riding breeches, especially when the tall riding boots are used. These breeches are close fitting and do not flap or flutter in the wind while riding. Many motorcycle patrol units also require that officers wear long sleeve shirts year round. The sleeves offer some protection in the event of a crash or fall; and also offer protection from the sun. Generally, clothing that flaps or hangs loosely while riding is not recommended for motorcycle patrol officers. Because these officers are often exposed to harsh weather conditions for extended periods. It may also be necessary to equip motorcycle patrol officers with a duty weapon that will resist rust and corrosion. In addition, nylon web gear may be beneficial as it will dry faster than leather and will have a longer service life in the harsh weather conditions often encountered by motorcycle patrol officers. 

For cold temperatures, motorcycle patrol officers need cold weather gear that may differ from that used by other patrol officers. Even temperatures that can be tolerated easily by officers when they are standing still demand some type of insulated clothing. Rain gear for motorcycle officers also may differ for that of other department personnel. Two-piece, comfortable fitting “slicker suits” are usually recommended for motorcycle use during rainy weather. 

Enforcement Strategies 

In addition to speed enforcement, agencies have successfully used police motorcycles to conduct red light running campaigns. Motorcycles can be assigned at busy intersections to monitor traffic light violations. The police motorcycle's surveillance of the area can be overt to maximize the visible deterrent impact or covert to maximize tactical objectives. By their nature, high traffic areas can make it difficult to position a patrol car. Motorcycles, however, can be more effective at these locations due to the ease with which they can be positioned. Motorcycles can also assimilate into traffic for enforcement purposes easier than conventional patrol vehicles. 

Agencies have also used motorcycles with success to combat aggressive driving. The police motorcycle can be utilized easily to observe a busy highway for the types of violations that are indicative of aggressive driving. Some agencies have used unconventional vehicles to monitor traffic flow and detect violations, and then communicated violation data to waiting motorcycle officers. Once these violations have been observed, and in some instances documented with on board video cameras, the motorcycle officer can maneuver through traffic to make the stop. 

Such operations can be used in conjunction with public information and education campaigns. Some agencies have even used these types of events to roll out new shipments of police motorcycles. Agencies can advertise the purchase of the motorcycles and associate them with a specific problem, whether it is red light running, speeding, aggressive driving, or some other traffic problem in that agency's jurisdiction.

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