Those who attended the Santa Claus parade in Peoria Friday saw a new addition — two motorcycle officers from the East Peoria Police Department.
The department is now leasing two 2013 Electra Glide Harley Davidsons for its new motor patrol unit. Officers Dave Sprague and Scot Craig were selected as the motorcycle officers from nine candidates.
The process began in July and the bikes were ready Nov. 8.
“I brought it up six years ago and it got shot down,” Craig said.
More recently, there was an event at Riverfront Park in East Peoria where Mayor Dave Mingus saw the Peoria Police Department’s motorcycle officers there and liked them, Craig said.
New East Peoria police Chief Dick Ganshow, who previously worked at the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department, was familiar with the motorcycle police there.
After it was approved by the City Council to lease the two Harleys for the police department, Ganshow sent an email to the officers to see who would be interested in riding them. The nine candidates were interviewed by the Chief and the two deputy chiefs.
Craig and Sprague, who both have their own motorcycles at home, said they were thrilled to be selected.
“I know the Chief would like to have more,” Craig said.
After being selected, the officers had to go through intense training. Harley Davidson in conjunction with Northwestern University does the training. The officers traveled to Madison, Wis., for two weeks to do their training.
“It’s some of the hardest training I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve been through SWAT training, Haz-Mat, and this was by far the hardest,” Craig said.
“You were physically and mentally exhausted when you were done,” Sprague said.
“They basically teach you to push that motor… You’re doing 360 degree turns in two parking spaces,” Craig said.
It was challenging, the men said, due to driving a large bike that weighs over 800 pounds, at low speeds.
“If you lose speed, you fall,” Sprague said, adding they both fell many times during the training.
“I tell people, generally speaking, I bet I put that bike down 100 times,” Sprague said. “Those bikes can take a lickin’.”
The officers had class on a Monday and then nine exercises during the first week. The second week was to practice and practice and practice some more. The last two days were for testing.
“You can’t knock a cone out of place or put your foot down,” Sprague said.
At times, Sprague said he worried he would not pass the course. He said the course built up his confidence.
Page 2 of 2 - “Going into it, I thought I knew how to ride a motorcycle until I took this class,” Craig said.
The officers went to the Peoria Police Department to observe and ride with their motorcycle officers. There, they learned things like how to position their bike so they can be seen by motorists.
“We rode with them a couple days and Tazewell County as well. We went over traffic stops and positioning,” Craig said.
“This is still new, a lot of it is experimental,” Sprague said.
“I heard one of the old timers say they’re fun to ride and other than that they were completely useless. I totally disagree. It’s a lot of what you get out of it,” Craig said. “I think they’re going to be very beneficial for the city.”
The officers will ride eight to 10 months out of the year, depending on the weather. They have gear to ride in the rain, if needed. Their normal riding gear consists of boots, pants with thicker material on the inner knee and rear, a shirt, reflective jacket and helmet. The helmet is Bluetooth capable and is completed integrated into their radio system. A button on the handle bar is for the PA system and to use the radio.
Typically, the officers will use the motorcycles during the day. They can still drive their squad cars if they choose to.
The advantage to riding the motorcycle over the squad car is response time and accessibility.
“I can get anywhere typically quicker,” Craig said.
Sprague said the bikes are an advantage during rush hour traffic. Another advantage deals with the fact there are five bridges in the area. Craig said it is convenient to have the bikes if there is a wreck or a stalled car on a bridge.
“We can ride that center line between cars,” he said.
There is a fun aspect to the bikes as well. During the year, the officers will participate in parades and other ceremonies. The first detail the officers participated in was the Veterans Day parade in East Peoria. The officers also led the Festival of Lights parade this year.
“I had a blast,” Sprague said.
“We messed around doing circle 8s for the crowd. It was a change from standing at a post for the past 10 years,” Craig said.
“I can’t wait to get out there and do as much as I can. It’s something new,” Sprague said.