Highland Park is doubling the size of its motorcycle division this December — by hiring one more officer.
Adding a second motor officer will allow for improved response times, as the officers could split their coverage of the town between the east and west sides, said Officer Peter Gardner.
“Also, I’m still in the military reserve, so if I’m gone for a week doing military, I need to have somebody here on that doing what I was doing,” he said.
The division in its current form has existed since Highland Park Assistant Chief of Police Paul Sandman contacted Gardner in 2015. Gardner was a motor officer in Lewisville from 2001 until 2008, when officer Victor Lozada-Tirado, 49, died after hitting a curb during a security motorcade for Hillary Clinton in Dallas.
“Our chief [in Lewisville] said: ‘You know what, they’re dangerous. I don’t want to bury one of you guys. Park ‘em,’” Gardner said.
Before Gardner’s arrival to the force, the Highland Park Department of Public Safety had to outsource investigations of traffic-related fatalities to either University Park officers or DPS state troopers. This is due to Highland Park’s unique division of labor, where other police officers also split time between roles in EMS and fire safety.
Fatality investigations involve a variety of tools for measuring speed, either from skid marks, the vault of a car jumping off the roadway, or the amount of intrusion into a car after a crash.
According to HPDPS Lieutenant Lance Koppa, adding a motor officer dedicated to traffic violations has shortened response times by 30 seconds (HPDPS’ average is two minutes, 37 seconds), and that over a three-year period, traffic accidents are down by 8 percent.
The motorcycle, a Honda S21300, cost around $48,000 with Garner’s improvements, which include high-visibility lights, an integrated braking system, moving radar, and front and rear cameras.
The most important aspect in choosing the bike was its water-cooled engine.
“So even when we had the Goff’s fire a year ago,” Gardner said, recalling the fire at former University Park staple Goff’s Hamburgers, which Gardner assisted UPPD on, “It was 107 degrees. That bike’s running with all its lights on for three hours. Never overheated.
“Try that with a Harley: It’s air cooled, it’s overheating, it’s dying. Now you’re stuck with just a big 800-pound obstruction in the roadway.”
Aside from the benefits to speed and efficiency, Gardner said, motorcycles have had an unintended impact on the department.
“They are the best customer relations platform you’re ever going to get,” Gardner said. “If I park this thing at any store driving through the Village, people stop, talk to me. Kids run up to it. If I drive up in a squad car nobody’s gonna come up to me, because nobody wants to talk to me through a car. I am totally accessible [to] the public.”
In December 2016, University Park City Council approved the purchase of two 2017 Harley Davidson Road King motorcycles for its police. The price tag for the two bikes was $48,982.