The Mesa, AZ Police pursue a continuing pattern of in-service training excellence in order to minimize a motor officer’s exposure to motorcycle accidents and maximize the officers’ competencies. Mesa PD has a rigorous, three-week initial training offered to their officers both new to motors as well as regularly scheduled in-service training for more experienced riders. As proof of their competency, during the Western states motor rodeos, Mesa’s motor unit has placed in the top five for the past five years.
Mesa’s motor training program, in existence for the past 17 years now, shows changes made reflecting problems or situations specific to the city of Mesa, such as limited off-road desert, congested city streets, and numerous boulevards and islands separating traffic direction. Mesa’s changes were integrated into an original model initiated by the Phoenix PD more than 20 years ago.
Because motorcycles possess little in the way of physical protection, training in all aspects of the operation instill a high degree of confidence in the officer. Then with the confidence-building skills taught and practiced on the training location, officers come with a high degree of competency. In-service training is scheduled quarterly for experienced riders with special qualifying events each six months.
Mesa begins all motor qualification trials and in-service training on a one-quarter-mile square asphalt lot adjacent to the police training facility. All Mesa’s training motors are devoid of normal police equipment, such as fairing, lights (headlamps, emergency lights and brake lights) or sirens. That’s because the motorcycles get fairly well beat up during initial training.
Officers selected for initial motor training are dressed with heavy-duty vests, arm and shin protection along with heavy-duty steel-toed boots and leather gloves. These are all protective precautions designed to reduce road rash on the officers; new officers will fall about 50 times in a couple of days—hence the absence of police equipment on the training motors.
The motors and officers are now ready to begin. After equipment familiarization in a highly controlled environment, initial training begins when officers are permitted to start up and ride their motors. Officers are instructed to run up to speed in first gear without shifting then let the motor brake or decompress to idling speed while still in motion. This routine is practice several times until the rider is comfortable in that gear.
The motor trainee then performs the same drill again shifting into second gear, runs up to a reasonable speed and again motor brakes or decompresses back through to first gear and idling speed. This practice is performed several more times until the officer is comfortable at the higher speeds in each of first then second gears.
This is conducted through each gear until the officer feels reasonably comfortable at speeds up to 80 miles per hour. This drill is performed several times each day throughout the entire three-week beginning course. Soon, the new motor officers perform flawlessly throughout the course while developing their confidence and good motor skills.
During initial training and turning the motor, new officers are instructed to look ahead of and to the left or right but never directly at their front wheels. The officer is taught to observe an area about 4 or 5 feet ahead of his direction of travel, especially when turning.
Motor officers will automatically come to rely on their peripheral vision. If officers on their motors concentrated only on the front tire, that rider will actually hit any object he is watching. Therefore, if the officer keeps his head up and looking ahead, the motor will follow that gaze.
Initially, turning practice is done within a circle of soft rubber cones for obvious reasons. The circle is about 18 feet in diameter. As the officer becomes more proficient, the practice circle’s diameter is shortened. After three days of regular practice, officers become comfortable with the new way of “looking at things.” The officer increases his peripheral vision, which is also necessary for safe motorcycle operations.
Using blaze orange cones, numerous practice obstacles are arranged into several important designs. One design is called a running figure eight. The snowman is another. But the basic principles of the 360-degree circle, the intersection and the cycle are identical. All of this highly controlled riding using cones is conducted to develop coordination and confidence in the motors’ self-reliance. New riders will learn exactly what their motors can do as well as what is impossible. The hope is that all mistakes are made on the practice pad and not on the streets.
Practicing and perfecting the 180-degree turn builds confidence and is used when officers need to complete a safe U-turn in traffic. Performing that command requires the officers to practice using only about 14 feet to make a successful U-turn, as most traffic lanes in Mesa are 10 to 11 feet. Leaning the motors in order to make those tight turns usually finds them scraping the footboards on the pavement.
Veterans confirm that practicing this quick U-turn maneuver is especially helpful and practical.
Another extremely important drill is the “broadslide.” This maneuver is only used as a last effort when you know a crash is imminent. These maneuvers are taught to all motor officers early on and only as can emergency opportunity to put your motor between you and the vehicle or other object rather than to hit an obstruction head on.
The broadslide procedure is initially learned on a dirt area (or the desert in Arizona, where there is softer gravel) before the officers are brought onto the hard asphalt pad for more obstacle training. The importance of learning the broadslide manifests itself when all too often someone will pull out in front of you, and the typical reaction is to lock up your rear break.
The easiest way to begin learning the broadslide technique is to ride in a left circle at no more than about 15 mph. When the motorcycle is in a lean and the rpm is steady, the clutch is pulled in. Then lock up the rear brake and keep it locked. This causes the motor to go to a broadslide. Once mastered to the left, practice the same maneuver on the right side.
When the rider becomes skilled at the broadslide activity, the student should try while riding in a straight line and then attempt to turn the motorcycle in a 90° angle to the original direction of travel. They try this first to the right, then the left. Once mastered, the riders will then be absolutely comfortable with this procedure. Remember to keep the rear brake locked up for success with this maneuver.
Learning to feather the clutch and brake at the same time is necessary in order to control the slide. Motor riders can learn to control that maneuver by practicing the broadslide. However, if they let off that rear brake too soon, before the motor comes to a complete stop, the rider performs what is called a “high side,” and they actually eject themselves off the high side of the motor.
Once he’s locked that rear wheel, the rider starts to turn. The rider needs to train himself to stay on that brake until the motor comes to a complete stop and not let off the rear brake. Mesa training division films show officers actual let-offs while in a broadslide with both new and seasoned veterans being ejected because they have not yet mastered the technique.
After graduation from the motorcycle course, officers are issued their own motors with all the equipment and regular police gear. They are expected to take their Kawasaki’s home with them and instructed to keep the motors safe and treat them as they would their own personal equipment.
Sturdy crash bars are a must on training motors. During the entire three-week course, the crash bars also take their toll sustaining scratches, dents and general ugliness. Fairings are not on the training motors, as they would be destroyed. The fairings will be mounted on the second to the last day before graduation from the school. By then, the officers most likely will feel so comfortable riding the original trainer motors, they won’t even notice the change.
At the end of a disciplined and highly controlled two-week course, the third week calls for “live fire,” a term that refers to actually going onto the streets for a week of general practice riding with their instructors. This third week of live fire exercises includes two motors turning side by side in a lane next to regular automobile traffic; two motors riding side by side onto two-lane freeway on ramps; and traveling through intersections with other vehicles coming and going as regular traffic in busy intersections.
All this maneuvering is designed for confidence building. During the third week, other obstacles found through the course of actual duty include riding motorcycles successfully over curbs and limited off-road work as parts of Mesa are surrounded by desert. Mesa thinks the Kawasaki 1000 is particularly suitable for the desert’s rock, sand and gravel and for the regular police street duty.
Mesa uses a Kawasaki 1000 special police model, about a 700-pound motorcycle, which is then outfitted with the standard police gear including, red and blue lights, hard saddlebags, and sirens. The Kawasaki police model was found to handle all general police chores with ease where larger cumbersome or more sensitive motors fail to perform those limited off-road events, biking over curbs and minimum water travel exposure.
The washout rate for Mesa is between 50% and 60%, which proves that motorcycle training is not for everybody. Seventeen-year motor veteran Ron Martinez, one of the four motorcycle training officers, once started a class with seven officers and only two graduated. The rest were washed out. Incipient motor officers require a little more motivation than other duties. The officers know that riding a motor is a life-or-death job. One expression among motor riders is, “You’ve either crashed on a motor or you’re going to crash. It’s just a matter of time.”
Mesa PD requires requalification on its motors annually and incorporates any new techniques learned from the previous year of riding. Motor officers must maintain a high level of awareness at all times. Also, firearms’ training is incorporated in that annual qualification. Usually requalification is scheduled quarterly at the training facility. Requalification only takes a day or two.
Mickey Veich is former BATF special agent turned writer/photographer of police subjects. He is very active in the International Police Association in Arizona and lives there year round. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.