By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - Master Patrol Officer Kevin Foltz rides a motorcycle for the Front Royal Police Department -- a rarity among law enforcement agencies in the region.
"The main purpose for it is traffic enforcement," Foltz said Monday. "Right now I'm taking calls as well."
Foltz and fellow Officer Bill Lawson have the required training to ride motorcycles in their law enforcement roles. The Front Royal department boasts the region's only motor patrol and Chief Norman Shiflett intends to keep the program going. But the motorcycle used currently needs more maintenance and Shiflett has asked for funding to buy a new vehicle.
"I think the majority of the people know that the motorcycle officer is a traffic enforcement officer," Shiflett said. "Usually [with] just the presence of that bike on the street people will slow down and obey the law."
Foltz, a longtime motorcycle rider, still had to go through the required training. He completed an intensive, 80-hour course over two weeks in October at a training center in Nokesville. The center has a track used to train officers on emergency vehicles.
Foltz called the motorcycle training the most difficult course he's taken in terms of testing physical endurance. The training also challenged officers from a mental angle.
"At the end of the day you're done," Foltz recalled.
The officer said he found the low-speed training the most challenging -- courses that required riders to maneuver the motorcycles around plastic cones, forcing Foltz to ride the 900-pound Harley Davidson around tight turns. The first test required officers to pick up the motorcycle off the ground -- a task Foltz said requires more technique than upper-body strength.
"Then you get plenty of practice for the next couple of weeks," Foltz said. "It's not a question of if you're going to drop it, it's how many times."
Foltz began riding for the department in February and has found that the motorcycle offers advantages and disadvantages to patrolling town traffic. A notable advantage is the savings in fuel costs. A cruiser gets approximately 10 miles per gallon in town, Foltz said. The motorcycle gets at least 30 miles per gallon in town, he said.
Motorcycles can maneuver easier in tight areas of town and take less time for the officer to respond to traffic situations.
"A patrol car sticks out like a sore thumb, sitting running radar," Foltz said. "Plus the streets are narrow and if you try to make a turn real quick in a car you have to back up and turn around."
"It's a whole lot quicker to make a turn on somebody," Foltz added. "You don't have to look for a driveway or an intersection."
The motorcycle allows the officer to stay partly out of sight or park in tight spaces while conducting traffic enforcement, Foltz said. Sometimes motorists don't realize it's a law enforcement vehicle until the rider sounds the siren or flashes the lights. On the other hand, police motorcycles can attract attention for the better. Foltz recalled occasions when people would see him stopped and come over to talk to him.
"You're approachable," Foltz said.
The black and white motorcycle, with its extra equipment, looks like the police vehicles used in greater numbers around the Washington, D.C., area.
Front Royal has had motorcycle patrols for years. Officer Donald Orye was the first person on the force to complete the required training.
The department currently uses a 2007 Harley Davidson police motorcycle outfitted with standard law enforcement equipment. The department's motorcycle shows some signs of wear and tear in typical spots on the vehicle. The motorcycle has only 24,000 miles on its odometer, but such an amount takes a greater toll on the vehicle compared to police cruisers.
Motor patrol officers use the motorcycles year round during the day shifts but not usually during inclement weather.
Recently, the department has had to send out the motorcycle for maintenance issues. Shiflett recently requested the town allocate $25,000 so the department can buy a new motorcycle. Town Council discussed the request and members asked Shiflett about the motor patrol program. Town Manager Steven Burke said Monday that the staff plans to develop a request for proposals in order to seek bids for a new motorcycle and will present the results of those bids to council in the near future, Burke said.
The department could continue with the Harley Davidson brand of police motorcycle, but also have looked at other brands, including Victory, another American company that sells police motorcycles.
Some councilmen suggested the department could save money by selling the older motorcycle. Shiflett told council the department could keep the Harley Davidson as either a spare or for training.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org