The first motorcycle purchased for police work occurred when the Detroit, MI Police Department purchased a Harley-Davidson in 1908. The Pensacola Police Department purchased its first motorcycle, also a Harley-Davidson, in 1913.
In the 1920s, the advent of motor vehicles had brought on an increase in traffic without the safety precautions of today’s vehicles.
Without traffic rules or enforcement, many people became victims to terrible crashes. Many people also realized that they could outrun the law if they were sought after, resulting in an increase in police chases. To combat this, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company created a police division. New police-version flatheads were developed which were faster than anything on the road.
By 1930, the Pensacola Police Department traffic division had risen from a “new idea” to a necessity to an elite unit. Each officer wore a special winged-wheel patch made especially for traffic officers. They are still in use today. The patches, accompanied by the tall leather boots (for protection against the engines), the Sam Brown belts and the specially made pants made for quite a site!
The motorcycles and officers became the department’s show pieces. They were used for parades, escorts, funerals, traffic enforcement, crowd control, and traffic jams. Boys looked at the slick motor officers as larger than life, girls looked at them as knights in shining armor, men looked on them with disdain, and women…well they just looked at them.
From within the department, being chosen for the Motor Unit was an honor. Not all officers want to ride the two-wheeled attractions, but many did.
Besides being fun and flashy, riding a police motorcycle was a fast track for promotion. Many department leaders over the years were motor officers at one time.
The other side – they were hot in the summer (wool jackets in Florida in the 1900s-1950s, sitting atop a hot gasoline engine), cold in the winter (30-degree weather driving 60 mph in the open), dirty, and a lot of work to maintain them. Most officers, however, never complain.
Riding a police motorcycle is glamourous but dangerous. Many officers have been injured and three lost their lives while riding.
Motorcycles at the Pensacola Police Department definitely add a level of class to the department, but if you are riding one and don’t know what you are doing, you could end up hitting a Ford truck on Bayfront Parkway!