We’re standing on a side of the road in Redondo Beach, California, next to Honda police bikes, lights flashing. We just pulled over a couple who made an illegal left turn on a quiet street near an elementary school, but my partner for the day, motor officer Bill Turner, is in his usual jovial spirit. He hands them a warning.
It’s Tuesday morning, two weeks before Christmas. Dispatch chimes in on the radio, a 211 call, police code for a robbery. A man in a black Audi snatched a purse containing $10,000 a few miles east of us. It’s a desperate time of year for some. We listen attentively as drama unfolds.
Since we’re on bikes, I presume we’d be the ones to pursue. But Turner says it’s too dangerous, and even though the villain is a couple of miles across town, slogging through endless South Bay traffic lights is a drag. We’ll get the next guy.
We’re riding CRF1000Ls. Mine’s stock, his a custom-outfitted Africa Twin built by Roland Sands Design. The Redondo Beach Police Department wanted to try something different from the standard-issue ST1300. The department has six of them sitting idle in the garage.
“I always thought, ‘What are we doing as policemen riding these huge touring bikes when there’s other platforms out there?’ ” Chief Keith Kauffman says. “Everything seems to be better for the application that we actually use it for, especially in a municipality.”
Kauffman makes a valid point. After all, the 6.2-square-mile seaside city is well away from the dangers of parked rush-hour traffic or after-hour high-speed chases.
“We’re not on freeways like the California Highway Patrol. We’re not traveling at high speeds, catching up with cars over long distances.”
Enter Honda’s Africa Twin. The RBPD has two of the machines already and two more on order in an effort to upgrade its motorcycle fleet. Redondo Beach officers have been turning to bikes for patrol duty since 1914.
Posted at a busy intersection on the north side of town, we’re hunting speeders. After 25 years on the job, Turner has a keen eye for drivers with lead right feet. Because it’s hearsay without evidence, he pulls out his lidar-enabled speed gun—and the batteries are dead. Sgt. Steve Sprengel hands him the batteries from his gun, but those are out of juice too. “Be right back,” he says before running to the station to get fresh AAs.
Locked and loaded, Turner takes aim at a low-slug car. “Aim for the front license plate,” he tells me before squeezing the trigger. The gun beeps, displaying the driver’s speed: a few mph over the 35 mph limit.
“If they’re only a few mph over, we let it slide. Your turn.”
Despite hundreds of hours of Duck Hunt experience, it takes me a few tries to remember how to play this game. A black BMW zooms toward us. I aim and squeeze the trigger. The display flashes 57 mph. On go the lights and siren, and away we go. Well, away Turner goes. I fumble with the controls. Click-click-click. The battery’s dead.
Turner handles business before coming back to check on me and my stranded CRF. “I told you not to leave the key on,” he chuckles, only half joking. Sprengel calls over the radio, and a few minutes later another officer in a Ford Explorer pulls up with a battery charger.
While we’re waiting, I ask if the person in the BMW received a warning.
“The people who get warnings are generally folks who are honest,” he explains. “If you stop someone for doing 60 miles an hour and they go, ‘No, I was doing 35. You must have had a different car.’ Well, you’re the only car on the road, versus someone who says, ‘Yeah, I was going downhill, and I let the speed get away from me.’ Cars are so smooth nowadays, it’s easy to happen.
“The poor guy earlier who made the left turn, he actually said, ‘I was going to make a U-turn, and then I saw you guys and panicked and made the left turn, and I looked up and saw the sign.’ ”
The woman in the BMW received a speed infraction. After another couple of minutes, my Africa Twin fires up, and we’re back on the road, en route to a fender bender.
We’re second on the scene. Thankfully, there are no injuries, but the crumpled Prius is clearly going to need a tow. The first responding officer says he’ll handle it, so we head for lunch.
The RSD-outfitted Africa Twin looks menacing compared to Sprengel’s Honda ST. With its slim rear end, the holstered AR-15 rifle hanging off the back of the ADV machine is especially fearsome.
“Before the North Hollywood shootout, only SWAT guys were carrying shouldered rifles,” Sprengel tells us. “After that, almost all agencies in Southern California began going to a rifle in addition to a shotgun in their car. That incident was one of the biggest events in law-enforcement history to change the way we do stuff.”
But bank-robbing maniacs dressed in black aren’t the only things that motor cops have to worry about. Consider the open-air environment of a motorcycle, and a lot of things can happen when you’re on patrol.
“Our job is dangerous enough,” Kauffman says. “Law enforcement is typically blinded by tradition. That’s why I want to give our men and women the best tools possible for the job.” That includes riding gear.
“A lot of departments are transitioning to them,” Sprengel says of his $600 armored Motosport Kevlar pants. He pairs them with an equally functional pair of Sidi boots.
“Now we actually have a good motorcycle boot and pant. If you go down in these things, they say at 100 miles an hour, you won’t burn a hole in them.”
When it comes to hand protection, however, motor officers are more fickle. Outright protection isn’t as big of a priority as the ability to work a trigger.
“It’s important to keep our hands free,” Sprengel says. “Instead of trying to pull off a typical motorcycle glove, these deerskin gloves shake off easily. So, safetywise, it’s better for us, yet still gives a little protection. It’s hard to get your finger in the trigger wall with most gloves that include hard knuckle protection.
“Of course, we’ll practice at the range that way, but it’s better to shoot without gloves,” he adds.
Turner and I ride in staggered formation as we patrol the south side of town. It’s everything I can do to keep pace with my partner, even at the speed limit on a moderately busy thoroughfare.
“I think I got my first dirt bike in ’83 or ’84. I started racing Ascot, but I sucked at it,” Turner laughs. “I quit for a while when my parents stopped paying for it. Later on, I got back into it. I was about to get hired here, but I destroyed this finger (he waves his all-important trigger finger). Finally, my doctor said, ‘Aren’t you trying to get hired as a cop? You need to stop racing.’ ”
Despite doctor’s orders, Turner returned to racing after joining the department in the fall of ’93.
“I started again after I got hired,” he says with excitement. “But it’s just goofing off for fun now. The last race I did was a couple of years ago at the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix.”
Out of nowhere, he fires up the lights and sirens, and we pull in behind a small beat-up pickup truck, the bed sagging with tools and equipment. As we approach the vehicle from the driver’s side, I ask what the driver did. “He ran a red light,” Turner replies. I never saw it.
The driver owns up to it, citing the heavy load as the reason why he didn’t slam on the brakes. Turner lets him off with a warning.
“It’s an expensive ticket,” he grins afterward.
The rest of the day is a blur of citations and fender benders, drivers either not paying attention or purposefully trying to skirt the rules of the road. Finally, Turner navigates us to Redondo Dog Park, where he aims his Africa Twin at the sidewalk.
The afternoon sun lights up the grass as we cruise through, saying hello to local dog owners who are either taking a late lunch or skipping out early from work.
“Believe it or not, a lot of cars are broken into during the day here,” he says.
His eyes scan the area as we do a quick lap through the top and bottom parking lots. The coast is clear, so we head back toward the station, rounding out an eight-hour day in the saddle.
“It’s something I’ve just always wanted to do ever since I was a kid,” sums up the sarge when we’re back at the station. “There’s ups and downs to it, but it’s a good profession. The community engagement, the camaraderie, the friendships you make, and the opportunity to do different things, it just makes for an incredible time,” he says.
“If you’re going to work hard and put yourself out there, on the line, you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing. We’re pretty lucky.”