Fewer motorcycle officers on patrol in Clark County

Many police agencies now favor patrol cars

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

Published:

 

BATTLE GROUND — It's easy to spot Shaun Holahan when he's on the job. The 9-year veteran of the Battle Ground Police Department often sits along busy roads and intersections on a department-issued Harley Davidson looking for speeders and other folks who violate traffic laws.

Holahan is one of a handful of police officers in Clark County who still ride a motorcycle on shift. Battle Ground, the Vancouver Police Department and Washington State Patrol are the only agencies in the county that still have motorcycle officers. They all use motorcycles for traffic enforcement.

Police motorcycles get a different response than patrol cars, said Sgt. Craig Randall, with the Clark County Sheriff's Office. Randall was one of four deputies who rode motorcycles in the sheriff's office in the 1980s. The stereotype is that motorcycle cops give tickets, he said.

High visibility is one of the reasons why Battle Ground Chief Bob Richardson opts to keep a few of his employees on hogs. Cycles are noticed by more people when on patrol, he said. Plus, they're more fuel-efficient than patrol cars and can park in smaller spaces, he said.

Motorcycles can work highly congested areas, are more maneuverable in traffic, and can get to speeding cars a little faster than patrol cars, said Lt. Jason Linn, a Washington State Patrol spokesman.

The local state patrol district, which covers Clark, Skamania, Klickitat, Cowlitz, and Lewis counties has three full-time and one part-time troopers assigned to motorcycles. Those troopers focus on traffic enforcement in high-collision areas, including parts of Interstate 5 and state Highways 500 and 503. Troopers will also spend time in Chehalis, Stevenson and other areas in the district.

There are fewer motorcycle positions -- including one sergeant -- at the local state patrol office now than in the past, Linn said.

During his motorcycle patrol days, Sgt. Randal said motorcycles worked well for traffic enforcement in dense areas of the sheriff’s office coverage area, including Highway 99 and Mill Plain Boulevard east of Lieser Road (not annexed into ­Vancouver city limits until later).

He said the bikes didn't work out how the sheriff's office had planned.

Working a patrol beat didn't work on a motorcycle, he said. If a deputy needed to transport someone to jail, he or she would have to call another vehicle. That isn't as big of a deal in a dense urban area as it is in the rural county, he said.

Weather was also a problem. Equipment, including handheld radar units, would sometimes short out in the rain.

"We couldn't use them (motorcycles) in the rain, and what does it do in the Pacific Northwest? It rains," Randall said.

When it came time to replace or retire the bikes, the sheriff's office opted for the latter.

The move saved money, said sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Fred Neiman.

Sheriff's deputies in the traffic unit were also issued an undercover car in addition to their motorcycle. That would double up on the costs to maintain and repair vehicles, he said.

That isn't a problem in Battle Ground.

Chief Richardson said his officers aren't issued patrol cars. If a motorcycle officer needs to use a patrol vehicle, he can get one at the station. State Patrol also has vehicles available for motorcycle troopers if needed, Lt. Linn said.

Battle Ground officer Holahan, who raced motocross in the 1970s and 1980s, said he feels fortunate to work at a small police department with a motorcycle program. He joined the program five years ago when it first started. Traffic enforcement wasn't one of his strengths but he wanted to challenge himself.

"I've had a lot of positions over the years and this is probably my favorite," he said.

He also likes being in the only local department with Harleys.

"It's a classic American bike," he said.