NORMAN — Those aren’t law enforcement impostors riding the sleek, new BMW 1200 motorcycles decked out in official Norman Police Department decals, lights, radar and cargo boxes. They’re for real. Just push your speed on Highway 9 to 75 in front of them to find out for yourself. NPD restarted its motorcycle patrol this spring.
Sgt. Tim Smith and Officer Brandon Wansick will take to the streets in coming weeks. The motorcycles, costing about $35,000 each when outfitted with police gear, arrived earlier this month. Wasnick has already started his shifts on the bike. Smith is completing his community service duties and trade his desk for two wheels soon.
Moore, Edmond, Yukon, Highway Patrol, Lawton and Oklahoma City have operated motorcycle units for many years. The two Norman officers went through 10 days of training in Texas and have been preparing to begin their duties here.
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” says Smith, a Norman officer since 1995 and a sheriff’s deputy before that. He thought he’d retire at his desk job. Now, he’s re-energized by the motorcycle unit.
“I’ve always ridden motorcycles but not for work,” he said, noting the motorcycle unit stopped after he arrived. He held out hope it would restart before he retired.
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Retired Norman officer Jim Henry was one of the last officers to ride with NPD. He’s a second generation motorcycle officer. His dad, John Henry, rode for NPD in the 1950s.
“It was wonderful. Motorcycles are great. I wrote 11 tickets in less than an hour one morning,” he said.
“You can sit on the side of the road and not be seen. They should have never stopped it.”
Jim Henry rode the big Kawasaki KZ 1000P motorcycle while his dad’s generation rode Harley Davidsons. The police stored the motorcycles overnight in his family’s garage. Officers would arrive every morning and unlock the garage to start their shifts.
“I learned some new words from those guys,” Henry recalls. “They’d start those things every morning and sometimes they’d kick back.”
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The last motorcycle “unit” began in 1977 with a grant from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. The department purchased 4 Kawasaki KZ1000P motorcycles and two traffic cars (Chevy Nova’s). The unit disbanded and the motorcycles were stored, ridden occasionally in parades and at special events and eventually sold for salvage.
The new BMWs, when fully equipped with police packages, will cost about $35,000 each. Police obtained $60,000 in grant funds for the bikes from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.
The funds are part of a $129,000 grant aimed at what is termed a “Norman Occupant Protection Enforcement Project.” It allows the department to expand enforcement efforts and increase public awareness of traffic safety.
The officers will keep their helmets on during traffic stops because that’s how they communicate with the dispatcher.
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Wasnick, a Norman officer for four years and a Krebs police officer for nearly five years, has ridden motorcycles for years. He and Smith were chosen from six applicants for the two-person team. Both had been on the department’s bicycle patrol.
“My dad bought me my first motorcycle when I was 10 and I’ve been in love with them ever since,” says Wasnick.
Both officers say they are more approachable when on motorcycles. Interacting with the public is part of the community policing philosophy adopted by NPD.
“It’s definitely a conversation starter,” says Smith. “I always thought this would be the coolest job in law enforcement and now I have it.”