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Police in Waynesville kick-start motorcycle program

Chief David Adams. Chief David Adams.

Chief David Adams and the Waynesville Police Department will begin implementing a motorcycle program and hope to have bikes on the streets this summer, thanks to a steal of a deal from an old friend in the city of Hendersonville.

“David called me a couple weeks or months ago,” said Blair Myhand, chief of the Hendersonville Police Department. “I would say he’s doing a really smart thing for the town of Waynesville by finding bikes from another agency that are used, that he can get into at an extremely low cost.”

In addition to his work in Franklin, Adams served in Hendersonville before becoming Waynesville’s chief in January, 2020. 

On Jan. 24, Waynesville aldermen unanimously approved the purchase of two Harley Davidson FLHTP models from Hendersonville for $2,000 apiece. One dates from 2012, and the other from 2013. Both have been expertly maintained. Motorcycle sales website shows newer models going for $25,000 or more. 

Motorcycles have been utilized by American police departments for more than 110 years. The first motor patrol division is credited to Gus Vollmer’s Berkeley, California Police Department in 1911. Vollmer is often called the “father” of modern policing; however, cities like Detroit and Portland may have used motorcycles as early as 1908. 

Usually, police bikes are little different from standard bikes, except for some minor modifications like run-flat tires, lower gear ratios and some wiring modifications. Some may even accommodate sidecars. Historically, they’ve been manufactured by well-known brands like Buell, BMW, Kawasaki, Triumph and Yamaha. 

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“It’s been in the back of my mind for several years,” Adams said. “Over the last year, one of our officers at Waynesville started looking into it and I started asking around and just casually mentioned it to Chief Myhand. He said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a couple we’re not using. We can come up with a price to help y’all get started.’ That’s kind of how it evolved.”

Myhand told The Smoky Mountain News that his department has five bikes, and that he’s familiar with motorcycle operations from his time with the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, where they’re used mostly for ceremonial functions. 

In his Hendersonville department, they’re used in much the same way. 

“Our main focus will be public relations, sort of ceremonial type stuff,” Adams said. “In the future as we develop the program, it could lead to traffic control but we have to get people trained and they will start applying for grants next year through the Governor’s Highway Safety ‘BikeSafe’ program.”

Sometimes, motorcycles can go places and do things cars can’t. 

“You can get to more congested areas or tight streets, and it’s a little easier to sometimes run radar,” he said. “I don’t think it will ever be a primary focus, but it could evolve. Obviously, we would not be involved in any type of pursuits or anything like that.”

The operating cost of the bikes is minimal, especially given that they won’t be used as frequently as the town’s other police vehicles. They’ll probably spend most of their time in a garage, and won’t be taken home. 

Officers need a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license, and then additional law enforcement-specific training totaling 60-80 hours, according to Adams. Fortunately, in the motorcycle-crazy Smokies, there are already a few officers with such endorsements and they’re ready to go. 

Myhand said that there aren’t a lot of downsides to operating the bikes, and that they’re no more or less dangerous than any other police vehicle — especially for people who are passionate about riding. 

“I’ve known officers who have been injured or killed, but we have the same risk in vehicles,” he said. “In most things, if you are an officer I would assign you to a particular function, but motor officer is not something that I assign people to. You have to volunteer to be a motor officer. I would never tell someone they have to do it.”

The bikes will also serve another purpose that may not be immediately obvious to the general public. 

“I think most officers, in my experience, want the opportunities to do other things in the profession,” Myhand said. “Having the ability to be a motor officer, even if it’s five times a year during a special event, gives them something else to work on, to try to master, to practice. It’s definitely a recruiting tool.”

Adams said that he thinks the addition of motorcycles to Waynesville’s fleet will offer his officers the same opportunities and will definitely help with officer recruiting and retention. 

“I agree wholeheartedly on that,” he said. “We’re always looking for more things to offer our current officers and to recruits. We got the drones last year. We have a top notch K9 program. We have an honor guard. We have a drug unit. We have criminal investigations, and the SWAT team. We offer a lot, and this is just another tool that attracts people.” 

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