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Two-Wheel Guardians

No two bikes should look alike. That’s the attitude of most motorcyclists. Many riders want a unique motorcycle. However, there is a group of motorcycle enthusiasts that want their transportation to look the same. The Traffic Services Section of the Sioux Falls Police Department is proud that their bikes all look the same. This elite group of law enforcement officers patrols the streets of Sioux Falls with a sense of pride. The Section is commanded by Lt. Jerome Miller. Lt. Miller moved to Sioux Falls in 1973 and went to work at Duke Tufty Dodge as a line mechanic. He has been a member of law enforcement since 1982 when he joined the police reserve unit. He became a full-time police officer in 1989. Jerry is an avid rider and this passion has advanced the publicity of the division. He walks a fine line in a world that defines itself between Harleys and Hondas. Lt. Miller owns and drives a 2004 Honda Gold Wing personally and the Traffic fleet is exclusively Harleys. To be a part of this Traffic Motor Unit, you have to be selected to be a part of the Traffic Section. Openings in the Traffic Section do not become available very often. Law enforcement officers who are chosen, have responsibilities beyond traffic control. Additional responsibilities include funeral processions, house moving, local events like the Hot Harley Nights, Hot Summer Nights, patrol of special events and parks.

The Section has led processionals for Presidents Bush, and Clinton, as well as Tom Daschle and national speakers for the Augustana College Boe Forum such as Vice-President Al Gore and Soviet Union Premier Gorbachev and others. Other cities around the state also have Motor Units including Rapid City, Spearfish, Watertown, Brookings, Aberdeen, and Vermillion. However, no department has as many units as Sioux Falls.

The history of the Section goes back almost 65 years. Motorcycles have been a part of the police department seemingly forever. Their status was limited to parking enforcement (chalking tires) for much of that time. The Harley-Davidson Servicar model was used by many law enforcement agencies at the time. By the mid 70’s, they went out of service and the department was out of cycles until the mid eighties. Then in the early eighties, a federal program helped to buy motorcycles (Kawasaki KZ 1000 police bike). At that time, the state sponsored training programs involving riding techniques and special situations faced by police officers on a motorcycle. Retired police Captain Tom Olsen, an ardent supporter of police motorcycles, was one of the department’s first instructors. His support of the motor unit continued until his retirement. Cycles gradually grew in favor and were used more for traffic enforcement. When they began to pave the bike trails in Sioux Falls, the tighter turning radius and enhanced ability to maneuver in tight spaces made the bikes a good resource to patrol the trail system.

Retired Sioux Falls Police Captain Steve Nyhaug was instrumental in the Section’s growth over the years. After growing up in Baltic, Steve attended SDSU, before deciding on a career in law enforcement. While attending SDSU he worked weekends as a dispatcher which ignited his interest in law enforcement. In January 1984 he was promoted to Sergeant and Lieutenant in 1991, when he was assigned to the traffic section of the Patrol Division. At the time, the unit consisted of a couple of Kawasaki’s and three to four various Honda models. For a kid that grew up not riding motorcycles but fell in love with them later in life, this was a dream job.

Shortly after Nyhaug took over the Section, Harley-Davidson came out with a strong purchase program aimed at law enforcement agencies. Local HD dealer J&L Harley- Davidson offered additional incentive to try their machines when they offered a 30 day introductory trial offer. The officers loved the performance and comfort of the units. Because of this, the introductory offer was extended to 60 days. The units included all the police equipment necessary for them to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.

Two years later the budget included a couple Harleys. The department sold all existing units except the two Kawasaki’s and one HD.

Then in 1996, the department absorbed the Parks and Recreation Law Enforcement Officers, adding four more officers and one more Kawasaki motorcycle to the unit. The Parks and Recreation Law Enforecement Officers are sworn police officers with law enforcement duties for the parks and bike paths. They were assigned to the Traffic Section and have additional duties including the bike trails, soccer and ball complexes, and summer events in the parks.

Because of the additional responsibilities and the need to be mobile and agile, motorcycles became an integral part of the division’s mobile fleet. Officers could ride their motorcycles on the bike trails on patrol. (The public is not allowed to do so.)

Harley-Davidson has historically supported law enforcement by supplying bikes to them. This relationship started before 1920 according to J&L Harley- Davidson owner Jim Entenman. “Harley- Davidson has provided not only bikes but special police equipment to fit the bikes”, says Entenman. “They also help with training on their motorcycles”.

Jim and his brother/partner Lonnie, decided to implement a community involvement program in the early 80’s. A part of this program involves donating a Harley to the police department for a $1/year lease for two years. Typically at the end of the this lease, the police department purchases the leased unit.

department purchases the leased unit. Their partnership with law enforcement started with the highway patrol in the mid 80’s. Then in the 90’s, they expanded the program to include local police. The dollar a year two-year lease program that J&L proposed for local law enforcement worked so well that the department extended it for another year. Because of the success of this program and the efficiencies motorcycles brought to the department, the police department purchased two additional cycles. Through the years, J&L Harley has also worked with law enforcement offices in Elk Point, Aberdeen, Madison, Brookings, and Watertown.

Another big reason for the success of the partnership between J&L and the police department is the service they receive when necessary. “Police motorcycles in need of service are automatically pushed to the head of the line because we realize they only have so many and need them back on the streets as soon as possible”, says Entenman. “This has been a good program for us and the police department and we are happy to continue to participate in it”.

Nyhaug spent 34 years with the department. He has come a long way since riding a Honda 50 as a kid. However, he never owned a cycle until 1975. He has made up for lost time since then owning a 1975 Yamaha 360 Enduro, 1978 Yamaha SR 500 E, 1998 HD Fat Boy, 2000 Road King Classic, 2003 Fat Boy, and a 2006 Screaming Eagle Ultra Classic, which he owns today.

Riding motorcycles is all in the family for Nyhaug. Steve’s son, Erik, rides with him as does his daughter, Sarah. Erik rides a 2003 Fat Boy. Steve’s wife Teri, does not own a cycle but rides with Steve. Between 2000 and 2005, they have ridden in every state west of the Mississippi except two.

After Nyhaug left the department, Mark Jensen took over the Section with Miller taking over after Jensen’s assignment was changed. Current Section Commander, Miller, has been riding since he was 17 years old. His first cycle was a Honda 450. “Motorcyclists must pay attention”, says Miller. “It is very therapeutic to ride motorcycles and as your skill level increases you can do more on the bike.” said Miller. He belongs to the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club. This is an international club that requires members to be a law enforcement officer (with powers of arrest either active or retired).

Currently the Traffic Section has a total of seven cycles (six owned HD Road Kings and one leased HD Electra). They have two 2007’s, two 2008’s, and two 2009 units and the lease bike is a 2007. The leased bike gets recycled every two to three years and the purchased bikes are on a three year rotation. The leased bike is essentially the loaner vehicle when repairs are being made on other cycles in the fleet. The unit also has a four wheel drive ATV. It is used similarly to the motorcycles, patroling the special events, parks and bike trails. Average mileage is about 20,000 miles over a three year period.

After they are traded in, all police motorcycles can be purchased by a private citizen. One difference between a publicly offered bike and a police bike is a police bike has a single seat only. The special police equipment is transferred from bike to bike and is not available to private citizens.

Many factors are involved in the purchase and type of model. For example, accessories can be put on models that are the same and may not fit other models. Training is also brand specific so keeping the same brand is important. However, bid specifications are not brand specific. Service is also an important purchasing decision. The current service agreement guarantees 36 hour turnaround to repair anything. The units are usually in service, rain or shine, for seven to eight months a year (from St. Patrick’s Day to the Thanksgiving Day Parade of Lights). At any time you may see one or all of the units on patrol but on average five units are patrolling at the same time. Patrol shifts average ten hours. The officers are allowed to take the cycles home if they live in or close to Sioux Falls. Each officer is responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of their unit. Officers must pass a certification process that includes an 80 hour special police motorcycle operator training. They must also have previous motorcycle riding experience. According to Miller, a major reason for increased usage of the cycles is more mobility. “The bikes can be used in complaint areas that you cannot put a squad car in.”

The eleven person Motor Unit has close to 100 years of combined riding experience. The average age of the unit is 42. Lt. Miller presents the riding program for other departments throughout the Midwest from North Dakota and Minnesota to Iowa and Wyoming.

A positive public PR is critical to the department. According to Miller, “because of the very nature of a motorcycle, motorcycle officers are very approachable”.

The public is very positive about the visibility of the unit in the community. In addition to positive visibility, the department also puts on safety seminars and is active in talking to local clubs and civic organizations.

Due in part to this positive public perception, city administrators have given the division their full support for continued growth of the division.

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