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Macon County adds Harley-Davidson Police Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson Police Motorcycle a Welcome Addition

Macon County's new Harley-Davidson police motorcycle

By TONY REID – H&R Staff Writer

DECATUR — The Macon County Sheriff’s Office has a new ticket to ride.

It’s the department’s latest patrol vehicle, a shiny black and cream Harley Davidson Electra Glide police motorcycle. The only officer certified to ride the machine so far is deputy Jonathan Roseman, who said he hasn’t issued any actual tickets yet, just written warnings.

Of course, someone, sooner or later, will enjoy the distinction of getting the first hog-delivered citation for speeding or similar naughty highway behavior. But Roseman and his boss, Sheriff Thomas Schneider, said this is a machine born to be mild, a vehicle as valuable for its public relations potential as for its speed and maneuverability at intercepting lawbreakers.

The bottom line is big Harleys are cool, and big Harleys tricked out as police motorcycles are even cooler. Roseman starts breaking the ice as soon as he pulls up and flicks down the kickstand. People gather around him to admire the bike he regularly spends 45 minutes polishing, and amid all the questions and comments are the seeds of real conversation about motorcycles and life in general.

“I’ve had more people approach me as I’ve been sitting on this motorcycle in the few days I’ve had it out so far, than I’ve had people approach me while sitting in my squad car in the last year,” said Roseman, 24. “Without a doubt, this bike is a good conversational starter: You get more interaction with the public, people start talking to you, and you end up with a much better idea about what’s going on in the community.”

The newly arrived police motorcycle has only been available to head out on the highway for patrols for the past few weeks, but Roseman, who joined the department a year ago after majoring in criminal justice at Illinois State University, is keen to use it whenever weather and other duties allow.

“You can hear everything and you can smell everything when you’re out on the bike,” he said. “You can utilize all your senses a little bit more than when you’re in the car; you just see and notice more.”

Normally, justifying the expenditure of more than $20,000 for a police motorcycle that can’t be used for large chunks of time — high winds, snow, ice and so on — would have arrested any chance of Schneider acquiring a Harley. He knew he had officers keen to add a bike to the cop vehicle stable, but he said voters elect him to take care of their tax dollars, too. “I felt this was not an appropriate purchase to be made with taxpayers’ money,” said Schneider. “So I said no.”

It was at this point that the cop version of Santa Claus showed up in the form of a donor known to the sheriff but who prefers not to be known by too many others. This benefactor, without any prompting from the sheriff, heard of the bike dilemma and agreed to plunge a hand into a copious pocket to pay for the Harley and give it to the department. And the donor wanted no recognition or publicity. “A very, very generous person,” the sheriff said.

Having acquired the bike, Schneider wanted everything done by the book and dispatched Roseman and the gleaming machine to Evansville, Ind., for a two-week police rider course on how to get the most out of the motorcycle while staying safe or, at least, as safe as you can. Roseman describes the experience as white-knuckle at times for him and the fellow trainees from other departments.

“The instructors had us put our bikes up on the kickstand and then kick the kickstand out from underneath and let them fall to the ground,” he recalled. “They said, ‘It’ll be down there plenty enough, don’t get discouraged about laying your bike down.’ There I am, new on the department with a brand-new bike and just letting it fall down; it was a little bit nerve-wracking.”

He said the course teaches riders how to push the bikes to the limit in terms of their performance, maneuverability, speed and stopping power, and the riders are taught to push themselves in tandem with their rides. One participant wound up running his ride up a chain-link fence and having it fall on him, separating his shoulder, but he still toughed it out and finished the course. Being a motorcycle cop is not for the faint of heart.

“At the training, they said they wanted to find your 100 percent; they really pushed this idea,” Roseman said. The training theory is that you have to know and experience what your limits and the bike’s limits are to be able to patrol and use the machine effectively out on the street, where life is unpredictable.

“You come back feeling completely comfortable about what you can do,” Roseman said.

Schneider said every officer who rides the bike will go through the same training — he has more volunteers waiting in the wings — but you won’t catch him piloting the Harley. His first fatal accident investigation more than 20 years ago as a young deputy involved a motorcycle, and the shock was enough to make him quit riding his own machine cold turkey.

But he has officers who are as enthusiastic to embrace the bike as Roseman, and if they’re willing, he’ll back them all the way. “And it just makes me feel a whole lot more comfortable knowing they’ll go through that extra training,” Schneider added.

A passionate evangelist for the gospel of community policing, the sheriff is anxious to exploit the bike’s accelerating public relations value.

“The best tool an officer has is the tool of communication, and the first thing that motorcycle does is it allows you to be able to have a unique introduction to the public,” he said.

As for Roseman, who has been riding since his dad put training wheels on a dirt bike when he was 5, his version of the best job in the world, being a cop, just got even better: “I’m hoping it’s a long, long summer,” he said.

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