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Serious Skills: Time To Earn Your Wings
“Head and Eyes! Look where you want to go!” yells Instructor Bret Hamlyn, lead motor instructor for the Sioux Falls Police Department. “Slow that engine down! Remember, keep it smooth.” These are just a few of the instructions that are given to the students of the Police Motorcycle Operators Class the Sioux Falls PD was hosting. “We put an Operator’s class on every year for our department and surrounding agencies that have, or wish to start a Motor Program,” explains Officer Hamlyn.
The Police Motorcycle Operator’s Course is an intense 2 week (80 hour) class that starts with the obligitory filling out of some paperwork, followed by four hours of classroom instruction. The students are bombarded with all the various phrases and expectations for the next two weeks. Terms like “head and eyes”, “look where you want to go”, “clutch, brake, and throttle”, and “surface apprasial”, are just a few they will hear over and over in the coming days. After the brief classroom lessons, it’s off to the parking garage for instruction on how to properly perform the “daily pre-ride checklist” to make sure their “Motor” is ready for patrol duty. They check the air pressure and condition of the tires, fluid levels, all emergency lighting, turn signals, and the siren for proper operation. Then it is off to the driving range!
The remaining class time is “in the saddle”. The students ride a wide variety of cone patterns to build on thier riding skills and confidence. Instructors Hamlyn and Gillen first explain the cone course. They explain where to look and where to place the front wheel. They even explain what happens when you don’t follow those instructions. Lastly, they demonstate it so the students can see what it looks like when executed properly. The next step is practice, practice, practice! Before the students master the first course, the instructors challenge them to the next cone course, and then the next. The students are pushed hard all week.
Between working the various cone courses, the students run through brake exercises. They practice proper panic stops over and over until they are second nature. Accident avoidence and evasive manuevers are mixed in. And let’s not forget the off road riding. Motor officers are challenged nonstop to build their riding skills. Even when they ride to and from their lunch break, they ride in formation; close and straight so they look like the true professionals they are.
In the middle of the second week, the students will take the riding test. They must score at least 75% or better to earn their “Motor Wings”. One of this year’s students, SFPD Sgt. Troy Bruxvoort said, “This is mentally and physically the toughest police training I have ever taken in my 18 years on the department. The first couple of days from picking the Motor up off the ground and the constant mental pressure to do everything correctly is intense!” Troy also said this was the most rewarding accomplishment of his career; to pass all the tests and finally receive my “wings”!
“Police work is dangerous while in a patrol car, but even more so on a motorcycle. It is critical that we give these officers all the skills we can to operator their motor safely and still get the job done,” stated Officer Hamlyn. “Safety is paramount. All of these cone exersizes and obstacles represent hazards they will have to deal with in the real world of riding. Neither Chad, nor I, will sign off on anyone who can’t complete the course with a passing score. We would rather see their dissappointment today than read about their serious injury or death tomorrow because we put someone on a Police Motor knowing they weren’t ready.”
After a gueling two weeks of instructing the Operator Course, Bret and Chad move right in to, not one, but 2, two day (16 hour) Refresher courses for all previously certified Motor Officers. This course is mandatory for all 12 of the SFPD certified Motor Officers and is offered to all the area departments for their trained Motor Officers. This year, Sioux Falls hosted officers from Madison, Vermillion, and Watertown Police Departments, and three members of the SD Highway Patrol.
Motorcycle riding skills are “perishable skills” that deteriorates after the long winter of no riding. The Refresher class hones those skills and prepares the officers for the new riding season. Many of the cone courses they practice are the same as the Operator’s class. They also practice several that are much more difficult. The Cloverleaf, the Tiger’s Den, and the Crackerjack are some of the names of the more difficult courses the experienced riders tackle. It was very obvious that these Motor officers are very competative as they challenged and pushed one another to ride these very difficult courses.
Pierre area Trooper John Peary, HP 161 said, “This is great cross training for our officers. We are going to leave here with a sense of being much better riders. Because we don’t usually have other officers to ride with, this is a great way to build our skills and absorbing knowledge from the others.”
All of the Sioux Falls PD Motor Officers are assigned to the Traffic Services Section of the Uniformed Patrol Division. Their duties include, but are certainly not limited to; traffic enforcement, funeral escorts, house moves, bike trail patrol, special events, and dignitary escorts. Becoming a “Motor Officer” is an elective position and highly sought after within the department.
The Sioux Falls PD has operated a Motor Unit since at least 1945, over 70 years! In the late 80’s, the unit was made up of a mixture of Honda’s and Kawasakis. Harley-Davidson started a lease program in the late 1990’s. At that time the SFPD transitioned to three Harley-Davidson Police Road Kings. The Motor Unit has continued to grow to their current seven Harley-Davidson Police Electras and one Triumph in a sharp looking black and white police paint scheme.
So, when you see them on the road, remember the commitment, hard work, and the strict training they went through to serve in this way. Keep up the great work and we look forward to the next 70 years on two wheels!