Police Motorcycles and training to survive
By Andy Norrie
The exact date of the invention of what we currently call a ‘motorcycle’ is blurred with the evolution of the bicycle in the late 1800s. As the motorization of bicycles took hold and commercial production began, their use by law enforcement quickly followed.
By Andy Norrie
The Detroit, Michigan and Evanston, Illinois police departments purchased their first motorcycles in 1908, as did the Toronto Police Department when it purchased and deployed “The Brown” for use by its officers. A historic ledger shows that the department paid $230 for the motorcycle manufactured by Brown Brothers Limited of Great Eastern Street, in London England. The Toronto Police Department purchased another Brown in 1909 and 3 Triumph motorcycles in 1911, which began a long and storied history of police motorcycling in Canada.
The light weight, maneuverability, and small physical footprint of the motorcycle makes it an optimal tool for law enforcement duty and for over a hundred years its primary function has been, and continues to be for traffic enforcement. In fact, I would suggest that the image of a police motorcycle officer is synonymous with traffic enforcement. All of the attributes that make a motorcycle a great tool for law enforcement also make it a dangerous undertaking.
Unfortunately there have been at least 51 line-of-duty deaths of police motorcycle officers since their first use. The first recorded death was that of Constable Robert Forster of the Victoria Police Department who died on November 11 1920. The most recent Canadian police motorcycle death was recorded on September 20, 2003, when Ontario Provincial Police Constable John Paul Flagg died in the line of duty.
Motorcycle collisions are the fourth leading cause of death of police officers in Canada behind gunfire (274), automobile collisions (162), and drowning (58) according to the ODMP-Canada website. A RAND Corporation study published in Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management underscores what we all probably already knew; that motorcycle officers are five times more likely to sustain injury in a crash than an officer in a car.
As police managers have applied risk mitigation strategies over the last 40 or so years, there has been more energy and focus applied to better police motorcycle training and equipment. Police motorcycle uniforms continue to evolve away from the traditional equestrian-based uniform and towards more motorcycle specific safety oriented wear.
Training and Rodeos
One of the ways of improving the training of police motorcycle officers in the last 40 years has been the creation of police motorcycle competitions and seminars or as they are affectionately known; rodeos.
The first such event on record was the Mid-Atlantic Police Motorcycle Rodeo. It was the brainchild of Corporal A.D. Johnson, a motorcycle police officer with the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland. In 1979, the first rodeo was held, to improve the skills and working relationships of the motorcycle officers in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area. Tragically in 1982, Corporal Johnson was killed in an on-duty motorcycle collision.
Early in the 1990s police motorcycle officers from Ontario (including the author) attended this event and were exposed to the high level of rider proficiency and camaraderie that was developed by the participating officers. Canadian officers subsequently created the Great Lakes Police Motorcycle Training Seminar (GLPMTS) as an entity to provide a similar venue in their region.
On the west coast a parallel story was unfolding. In 1981 several motorcycle officers from Coos Bay Police, Roseburg Police, Beaverton Police, Gresham Police, and Washington County Sheriff in Oregon as well as Vancouver Police and Clark County Sheriff in Washington State gathered to discuss the need for joint training.
The Oregon Washington Motor Officers Association (OWMOA) was created and in 1984 a formal training conference was held in Bellevue, Washington. In 1992 two RCMP officers from British Columbia attended the training conference. The OWMOA eventually became the North American Motor Officers Association (NAMOA) and in 1995 the RCMP hosted the training conference in Vancouver, B.C. The Canadian officers participating in both the GLPMTS and OWMOA events regular attend events in the others’ region and have formed a strong national networking and fraternal alliance.
Here are some of the benefits of participating in properly structured police motorcycle training competitions:
Developing a Winning Attitude
When you train for, and participate in competitions on a regular basis you are training yourself to be the best you can be and to perform within the highest percentile of your abilities. Preparing yourself to face adversity will help you develop a winning attitude. This positive attitude will provide benefits in all aspects of your life, but especially in police motorcycle operations.
When you train for and compete in police motorcycle events you will develop a strong sense of your aptitude and your abilities. You will be able to honestly evaluate your own performance without making excuses for underachieving and will be able to critique yourself and develop solutions and strategies to overcome these deficiencies in the future.
Superior Motorcycle Riding Ability
It is a fact that skilled competitive riders operate at a far higher level of proficiency than their non-competing peers especially when it comes to riding under pressure. If a rider’s ability is only mediocre or average in basic police motorcycle operation, it can be deduced that his/her capabilities will diminish if placed under stress or pressure.
Situational Awareness, Multi-Tasking and Task-Focusing
Police motorcycle riding requires multi-tasking to be done proficiently. Riding properly and defensively with the added tasks associated with law enforcement make police motorcycling very demanding. If you are doing it right, you will find it mentally and physically tiring. Police motorcycle competitions represent an excellent way to increase your mental processing speed and your ability to task-focus under high-stress conditions. The day to day requirements of riding a police motorcycle will seem like ‘a walk in the park’ after you have trained and competed in a police motorcycle competition.
Safer Motorcycle Riding Performance
If you were fortunate enough to receive good basic police motorcycle training and you are continually practicing proper riding techniques and methods, you will have a strong basis to prepare yourself for police motorcycle competitions. You will need to build on your fundamental skills to perform well at police motorcycle competitions. Good riding habits and practices will become second nature to you. It will follow you on and off the competitive field. You will know your limits and the limits of your motorcycle when placed in an emergency riding situation. Competitive riding ingrains a keen awareness of motorcycle control.
Dealing with Stress
One of the biggest benefits of participating in police motorcycle competitions is learning to deal with stress. The introduction of stress into the motorcycle realm during an emergency riding incident could have serious, even deadly consequences. The competitive rider is used to dealing with stress and knows how to channel it while the non-competing rider is not.
Motorcycle riding is physically and mentally demanding. Doing it in competition multiplies these demands tenfold and adds the dimension of emotional control as well. Stress and how it manifests itself in each of us is a peculiar thing. It is, however, something we can prepare and train to deal with. With proper coaching and regular practice, competition can help you harness and control your stress and let you use it to your advantage.
Exposure to New Techniques, Equipment and Methodologies
Police motorcycle competitions are also an excellent venue to observe and evaluate successful riding techniques, new ways of doing things and new equipment. Some of the best techniques and equipment being used in police motorcycle operations have evolved out of the police motorcycle competition realm. The competition venue is where new ideas are presented, demonstrated, debated and proven. The nature of competition means the bar is being continually raised higher and higher and this push for excellence cultivates an environment for improving abilities, ideas and equipment.
Participating in police motorcycle competitions is not the panacea for all that is wrong with a police motorcycle program. But, combined with proper and regular training it can be a building block in the foundation of a police motorcycle program.
Competition is just one component of a good well-rounded police motorcycle program. It cannot replace good realistic and applicable training but it can enhance it and potentially give your riders an edge by giving them the mental, physical, emotional and riding skills to help them “go home at the end of the day”.
About the author:
Andy Norrie is an Inspector with the Toronto Police Service. He has been a member of the Service for over 33 years and has over 30 years of experience in police motorcycle operations. Andy is a certified instructor and has attended and participated in various police motorcycle training and competition events since 1991 and is one of the founders of the Great Lakes Police Motorcycle Training Seminar based in and around the province of Ontario, Canada. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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