By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Ponch and Jon of “CHiPs” television fame won’t be leading the procession, but the New Albany Police Department will reintroduce motorcycles to its vehicle fleet beginning with today’s Harvest Homecoming Parade.
From fuel cost savings to greater ease in navigating busy downtown streets, the department has chosen to add two motorcycles. The first 2014 Harley Davidson model will be on display today, as a motorcycle manned by a police officer will lead the parade.
“This is a component of service that we haven’t had in quite sometime,” NAPD Chief Sherri Knight said Friday.
The exact date that motorcycles were taken out of the police fleet couldn’t be determined, but they were phased out in the early 1970s. A more than 30 year veteran of the force, NAPD Maj. Keith Whitlow recalled that police motorcycles were quite prevalent in New Albany leading up to the time he joined the department.
“They had some pretty good riders back in the day,” he said.
The motorcycle guiding the parade will be ready for patrol next week. The necessary radio and patrol equipment for the second motorcycle is being installed and the bike should be ready to join the fleet by the end of the month.
Knight said the motorcycles should make traffic enforcement, calls for service and leading parades and events more efficient. Motorcycles also use less fuel than typical squad cars, so the department should enjoy some cost savings, she continued.
Having officers on motorcycles also will help residents become more familiar with the department, Knight said.
“It really gives the officers a chance to interact with the public,” she said.
Several officers showed interest in trading in a cruiser for a motorcycle, but operating a bike in the line of duty isn’t merely a joy ride.
“The training they went through was extremely rigorous,” NAPD Lt. Col. Gregory Pennell said.
The officers chosen to man the motorcycles completed certified training programs, and though they are experienced riders, Pennell said they relayed that the classes were stringent and demanding. Some departments ceased using motorcycles because of safety concerns, which is why training is vital and standards are tougher these days, Whitlow added.
The department utilized several motorcycles during the 1960s and 1970s. Knight said the plan is start with two bikes and gauge the results.
“If it’s effective and a success, we certainly want to build on it in the coming years,” she said.