As squad cars deteriorate, state police turns to motorcycles
By John O'Connor
AP Political Writer
Published March 7, 2006, 3:31 PM CST
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- As its fleet of squad cars deteriorates, the Illinois State Police plans to use $500,000 in federal funds to begin patrolling highways with motorcycles.
Police officials and documents indicate the state police will put as many as 35 motorcycles on the road by summer to target "hot spots" where they see aggressive driving and high numbers of accidents.
The state will lease the motorcycles using money from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of an annual grant to help states enforce traffic laws, officials said.
"Motorcycles' maneuverability and inherent ability to monitor speed limits in areas a squad car cannot make them quite effective," the state police said in a written statement provided in response to questions from The Associated Press.
Police said adding motorcycles is a wise move despite budget problems that have limited the agency to replacing just 99 cars in the 2,300-vehicle fleet since 2001. Gov. Rod Blagojevich in January announced a plan to borrow $15 million to buy 500 new cars for a fleet where the average vehicle has 122,000 miles on it, 40,000 more than recommended.
"Motorcycles are cheaper to operate and maintain than squad cars," the state police statement said. "The ISP will also be able to dramatically reduce the mileage put on squad cars already suffering from extremely high miles."
The Illinois agency currently has 11 Harley-Davidson motorcycles that are used mostly in parades or as official escorts, officials said.
The state police will develop six motorcycle "platoons" that won't be bound by traditional state police district lines, according to a memo from director Larry Trent. That will give the agency more flexibility in moving motorcycles where they are needed to target the so-called "fatal five" traffic violations: speeding, improper lane usage, not wearing safety belts, drunken driving and following too closely.
The Pennsylvania State Police reactivated its motorcycle unit in 1989 and routinely uses it to crack down on traffic violators, said Trooper John V. Spishock, the Pennsylvania program's coordinator.
"They're inconspicuous," Spishock said. "People don't realize that it's a marked emergency vehicle, and the troopers can sit alongside the road and monitor traffic and run radar and people will just keep on traveling like they would without a trooper being there being a deterrent."
Motorcycles are limited by weather and potentially pose greater safety risks than cars. Spishock said Pennsylvania generally runs its bikes from April to November and stresses annual training to emphasize officer safety.
To Rep. Jim Sacia, a Pecatonica Republican and former FBI agent, the motorcycle patrol is a great idea. He is sponsoring legislation that would increase a fine to generate millions of dollars annually to buy new state police cars.
"There has always been a romance, people associate motorcycle law enforcement with good police work," Sacia said. "Right or wrong, it's a perception that's out there, and it's a positive perception for law enforcement."
Copyright © 2006, The Associated Press