Police escort Lozada procession before disbanding unit

12:00 AM CST on Saturday, March 1, 2008

By WENDY HUNDLEY / The Dallas Morning News

LEWISVILLE Lewisville's three-member motorcycle police unit took its final ride Friday as part of the funeral procession for Dallas motorcycle Senior Cpl. Victor Lozada.

Lewisville motorcycle police officers Scott Hayney (right) and Craig Barnhart (center) were part of a funeral procession for Dallas police Senior Cpl. Victor Lozada on Friday in Plano.

Ironically, it was Cpl. Lozada's tragic death last week that prompted Lewisville Police Chief Russell Kerbow to disband the unit. Flower Mound made the same decision last year after an officer was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.

While motorcycles remain a staple in many police departments, some law enforcement officials have decided the advantages of using the sleek, highly maneuverable vehicles don't outweigh the dangers they pose to officers.

"We just don't want to take the risk," said Lewisville Assistant Police Chief Joni Eddy.

The department's Honda ST-1300 motorcycles will be sold at auction, and the three remaining officers in the unit have been reassigned to patrol cars.

Lewisville officials began discussing eliminating the motorcycle unit in 1996 after an officer was seriously injured in a crash. When another officer was injured in December, police decided against replacing the bike, leaving only three motorcycles on the streets. But Cpl. Lozada's death Feb. 22 clinched the decision to ban them altogether, essentially ending the more than 20-year lifespan of the unit.

"They haven't ridden them since last Friday," Chief Eddy said, referring to the day the Dallas officer died while escorting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's motorcade.

Cpl. Lozada's funeral drew 4,500 mourners, and Chief Kerbow allowed the Lewisville motorcycle officers to participate in the procession.

The change has been difficult for Officer Peter Gardner, who has been part of Lewisville's motorcycle squad for more than six years.

"It's been a week since we've been in cars, and I'm still trying to come to grips with it," Officer Gardner said, adding that he nevertheless respects the chief's decision. "I don't like working out of a car. I feel safer on a bike. Your awareness is heightened."

Chief Eddy acknowledged disbanding the unit doesn't sit well with the motor officers. "They're not happy," she said. "Motorcycle riders are dedicated to it."

Lewisville isn't alone in scrapping its motorcycle unit. The Odessa and Midland departments took that step years ago after officers died while leading funeral processions.

"When a department has to deal with the grief from losing one of their members, they start looking at how they can prevent this from happening again," said John Young, state coordinator for motorcycle and ATV safety for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

That's what happened in Flower Mound in July when Officer Kevin Schmidt was thrown more than 70 feet when his motorcycle struck a vehicle during a pursuit.

While Flower Mound had begun disbanding the six-member motorcycle squad in 2005, Officer Schmidt's accident expedited the process, Flower Mound police Lt. Wendell Mitchell said.
"We're not saying that motorcycles are not a useful tool in law enforcement," Lt. Mitchell said. "They didn't fit as well for us as patrol cars. Each municipality will have to decide for themselves."
Many cities are keeping their motorcycle units, and some are adding them.

"As gas prices have increased, more departments have looked to going back to motorcycles," Mr. Young said, noting that the two-wheeled traffic enforcement vehicles became popular in the 1940s and 1950s as cheaper alternatives to automobiles.
Despite fatal accidents involving their units, neither Plano nor Garland police departments have disbanded their motorcycle units. But in DeSoto, the motorcycle squad was scaled back to part time two years ago when more officers were needed to monitor commercial traffic along Interstate 35E.

But DeSoto police Capt. Ron Smith hopes the motorcycle unit can be returned to full-time status in the future.

"For traffic enforcement they're a great asset. They're small. They're maneuverable. If you have an accident, they can worm their way through traffic."

Back in Lewisville, Officer Gardner said he already longs for his days on his two-wheel machine. "Just working on a motorcycle is what I'll miss the most," he said.