Fighting crime on a Harley

A pair of 5th Precinct cops patrol Southwest on motorcycles

When the weather is nice between April and late September, motorists caught speeding through Southwest might find something other than a squad car accompanying the flashing red and blue lights in their rear-view mirror.

Drivers might see Minneapolis Police Department officers Eric Bullen and Scott Watry pulling them over from behind the handlebars of rumbling Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Bullen and Watry are the only officers in the 5th Precinct who are certified to ride motorcycles for the police department. During the spring and summer months, if their precinct has enough officers to cover regular shifts or Watry and Bullen feel like putting in a few extra hours, they take out the bikes, which are mainly used to issue traffic citations and respond to accidents.

The officers usually ride the precinct’s two bikes together.

“It’s a nice break from the squad,” Bullen said. “We both would like to ride more than we can.”

The 5th Precinct’s motorcycle program is only a couple years old and has been functioning as a buy-back program for much of the summer because of a shortage of regular beat cops. Insp. Kristine Arneson said she plans on studying how effective the motorcycles have been and how they should be utilized in years to come.

The Minneapolis Police Department has 11 motorcycles citywide and 17 certified officers, said fficer Scott Olson, who trains police to ride.

He said motorcycle cops are critical to the department and he would like to see more officers permanently assigned to bikes.

Officers on motorcycles are great for traffic enforcement and they bring in a significant amount of revenue from issuing citations, Olson said. Motorcycles can also go places squads can’t, he said. A bike can maneuver through a crowd or cut across a park if necessary.

Olson said he once rode a motorcycle after a thief who tried to flee down a pedestrian walkway. The man eventually tired out and gave up.

“He got a good head start,” Olson said. “But he had a surprised look on his face when he saw me

coming.”

Watry said he once chased a man down an alleyway.

“You can go just about anywhere on a bike except over fences,” he said.

Watry said motorcycle officers do not chase fleeing motorists because it is too dangerous. They would call a squad in that situation, as they would if an arrest were made, since there is no place on the bikes for a passenger.

Just as important as motorcycle cops’ role in traffic enforcement and crime prevention, officers said, is the community engagement they create. The motorcycles are magnets for children and community members.

“The bikes encourage conversations with people who wouldn’t approach police otherwise,” officer Bullen said.

Bullen, who has been riding for a year and Watry, who has done motorcycle patrols for two years, have been limited to just a few motorcycle patrols a month this summer because the 5th Precinct has rarely exceeded staffing minimums.

The 5th Precinct provides police services to about one-fifth of the city. Its bounded by Interstate 35W on the east, Interstate 94 on the north and the city limits on the west and south.

Most of their time has been spent in a squad car, but they hope to get out on two wheels more often as the department hires new officers, which it is in the process of doing. Besides motorcycles, officers patrol the city in squad cars, on horses, by bike and on foot.

All of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 11 motorcycles are 2006 Harley Davidson Electra Glides with 1450 cc engines. The motorcycles are lease from Harley for roughly $1,400 each and replaced with the newest model each year as part of the deal. Other motorcycle manufacturers offer police packages, but Harley has been the easiest company to deal with and the bikes are incredibly reliable, said officer Scott Olson, who trains Minneapolis police to ride motorcycles.

Officers who want to become certified on a motorcycle must go through 80-hours of intense training on a bike. Maneuvers include sharp turns, sudden stops and riding through narrow areas, such as across a pedestrian bridge.

Officer Eric Bullen said the training period was the most difficult thing he’s had to do since becoming a police officer.

Officer Scott Watry said some of the skills he learned in training might have saved his life on at least one occasion, when a drunk driver pulled out in front of him and he had to bring his bike to a stop from a high rate of speed.

Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367 and jweyer@mnpubs.com.