From a distance, they’re hard to identify and sometimes speeding motorists won’t spot them until it’s too late and they’re being pulled over for a traffic ticket.
That’s one advantage Illinois State Police motorcycle troopers have over their peers in squad cars, and in years to come, they expect more police departments to buy bikes.
Trooper Chris Banning has been with the department eight years and has spent most of his time on a motorcycle since 2006, when the state formed a motorcycle patrol division. A key to their success is driving safely and getting others to do the same.
“Your awareness really has to be heightened,” he said of riding. “You have to be conscious of other people’s decisions. You have to drive defensively.”
Riding motorcycles gives the state police better gas mileage — 44 miles to a gallon — and more maneuverability, allowing troopers to reach places a car can’t take them, Banning said.
“In a squad car, if you see an erratic driver, you can’t get up there as fast,” he said. “It makes maneuvering through traffic much, much better.”
The motorcycle troopers not only get to places a squad car can’t, such as congested bridge accidents, they also are easier to hide when targeting speeders.
“That is their primary goal, aggressive traffic enforcement,” said Jason Wilson, an Illinois State Police public information officer. “They blend into the landscape pretty well. They’re a much smaller profile. The motorcycle guys can observe more violations than what a normal officer can.”
Banning said he has an elevated view on a motorcycle and can see into most vehicles. He can spot whether someone is wearing their seatbelt or drinking and driving. He can also hide behind road signs and trees.
The state police have five platoons of motorcycle troopers covering every section of the state. The northwest platoon patrols District 7, which includes the Quad-Cities, and four other districts. The local unit has Roy Sanchez as its master sergeant, a sergeant and five troopers, including Banning. Sanchez said the troopers ride Harley-Davidson Police Electra Glide motorcycles.
Sanchez started as a motorcycle trooper in 1999 in the Chicago area when some individual districts had their own motorcycle units. Like most members of his unit, he had been riding recreationally long before it became part of his job. He started riding in 1985 when he was 18.
“I think it’s great that I can have my vocation and avocation blend,” he said.
Banning agreed, but noted that when he’s working he’s in uniform and concentrating on traffic enforcement. Banning has been riding since he was old enough to get his driver’s license.
“Of course, it’s enjoyable,” he said. “You get to be out in the fresh air,
but work is work and police riding is
Training involves a two-week course in which troopers learn high-speed braking, evasive maneuvering and precision riding in which they have to navigate through a course of sharp turns, Sanchez said.
Sanchez said most motorcycle troopers ride from March to late November. Banning stays on his bike as long as the temperature is expected to reach
40 degrees that day.
“We’re on the motorcycles as often as we can, as much as weather allows,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez thinks motorists are more receptive to state troopers on motorcycles. He finds drivers are friendlier when he pulls them over if he’s on a bike.
“People are more apt to come up and talk to a motorcycle officer than they are in a patrol car,” he said.
Motorcycle awareness is another element of their work. Banning said now that motorists know troopers are riding motorcycles, they’ll be more likely to slow down and take notice of bikes for fear it will be an officer.
“The general public realizes there is more than just these patrol cars out there,” Wilson said.
Motorcycles are becoming more popular for police, Banning said. Davenport and Moline are among the local cities that use motorcycle patrol officers. The Iowa State Patrol does not have a motorcycle unit.
Banning thinks the work of the motorcycle troopers and other law enforcement has helped slow drivers.
“I think speeds on the interstate are starting to come down,” he said. “The other day I was out for an hour and a half looking for speeders and didn’t see any.”
Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or email@example.com