KOKOMO – The GM parking lot was dotted with intricate arrangements of orange traffic cones spanning almost the entire lot, marking the intended course for police officers training to become certified motor officers.
Three of the 15 training officers were Kokomo Police Department officers vying for the additional title, while the others represented departments from around the country.
“It looks easy, but it's very difficult, as big as the bikes are and as close as the cones are,” said KPD Capt. Heath Haalck, as officers riding 850-pound 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Kings wove in and out of closely placed cones. Frequently, cones would be knocked over or the motorcycle would tip over.
It's expected, said Haalck. They've been asked to handle a motorcycle in ways they never had before.
“The biggest part of this is the head game – it's all in your head. It's having the confidence of doing exactly what we tell you. How to use your head and eyes, and placement of the motorcycle,” he said at the lot on a recent morning.
It was the second day of training, but the first day of serious exercises on the motorcycles. The course spans two weeks. Additionally, some of the instructors were in a training of their own to become certified instructors. Their training lasts three weeks, and one KPD motor officer is among their ranks.
“You see how unsmooth they are right now, and having some difficulties. By the end of next week when they've done these exercises over and over and over again and (have had) a lot of instruction, it's nice to see them progress to where they can just flow through here,” said Haalck.
The officers follow a well-planned curriculum from the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety and made possible through a partnership with Harley-Davidson, which provides the motorcycles and a commercial vehicle to transport them all.
Jerard Pribyl, police motorcycle training coordinator for Harley-Davidson, said the relationship between the famed motorcycle manufacturer and the university began 22 years ago. That was just after two Milwaukee-based officers saw a need for police motorcycle training, and loaded a U-Haul trailer with two Harley-Davidsons and began offering training to surrounding departments.
The partnership with Northwestern University birthed a certified curriculum.
“We've gone from two bikes in the U-Haul to a million dollars' worth of equipment going down the road,” said Pribyl, a retired officer from Las Vegas.
The double-decker trailer, lets Pribyl haul 14 motorcycles in the top level and eight on the bottom, which mainly serves as his shop. It's where he works frequently on each bike at the end of, and throughout, the day.
The strain on motorcycles is strenuous during training, where Haalck said damage over the two-week period can amount to between $2,500 and $2,800 per motorcycle.
At the end of each run, an instructor walked over and told each officer what he did well and what he could improve. Instructors were looking for a number of techniques, said Haalck: posture, where the head and eyes were looking, fingers on the clutch, fingers on the throttle, whether brakes were covered when the need to, etc.
But when the officer makes it through the training the benefits are maneuverability in congested traffic, and an ease in reaching scenes. It's an adrenaline rush, said Haalck, to head to a time-sensitive scene on a motorcycle, lights and sirens activated.