Lately, we’ve been spending time with the Redondo Beach Police Department, logging some hours in the saddle of a Honda Africa Twin alongside motor officer Bill Turner and speaking with Keith Kauffman, Redondo Beach chief of police.
Kauffman has championed a change of approach to policing by motorcycle, especially as regards the equipment issued to officers. More effective motorcycles, better training, and safer gear are self-evident essentials Kauffman wants to provide to the riders under his direction. This conviction has led him to scrap the typical Harley-Davidsons or BMWs seen in many agencies in favor of the CRF1000L.
“I’ve been riding adventure bikes for a long time,” Kauffman explains. “I had a KTM 990 Adventure S. I had that for 10 years almost. In fact, I just sold it. I’d always thought, ‘What are we doing as policemen riding these huge, touring bikes, when there’s these other platforms that are lighter, that have suspension?’ Everything just seems to be better for the application that we actually use it for, especially in a municipality.
“We’re in and out of traffic. I’ve always seen in my entire career, guys on motorcycles getting in between cars in tight spaces while they’re trying to solve a crime or a crime in progress, going up and down curves. That’s the benefit of the motorcycle. That’s why they’re still used. But the platform I’ve always thought has been wrong.”
But a stock model off the showroom floor won’t cut it. There are police-specific accessories, crash protection, lighting assets that had to be developed. Honda proved willing to take on the challenge.
“We have great friends and supporters at Honda,” Kauffman continues. “We have a Redondo Beach Police Foundation. Honda had donated some of the side-by-side Pioneers to that foundation. So I called them. I made the pitch and I said, ‘Listen. We want to design a new police motorcycle and we think the Africa twin could be the one.’ They believed in us. Said, ‘How many you want?’ They gave us two.
“From there we had to fabricate the whole bike. Nobody had lighting for it. Nobody had the right crash bars and siren mounts and gun mounts, all the things police would need. So Jeff (Weiner, American Honda) said, ‘I know a fabricator.’ Then he ends up calling Roland Sands. Of all people, we get Roland Sands, right? So we took the bike down there and said, ‘What do you think about doing an adventure bike?’ He goes, ‘You know what? We’ve been wanting to build one. We haven’t built one yet.’ We basically said, ‘We want to build the baddest-ass police motorcycle in America.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah. I’m in. We can do that.’ ”
Yet having a few motorcycles built by a world-renowned custom designer isn’t an end point, it’s just the start. The two active CRF1000Ls are more of a proof of concept to show other agencies the Africa Twin is a highly effective asset for a police force. The next step would be to develop police-ready versions that are decked and ready for purchase, which is exactly what Kauffman is working on now.
“We’re going to start duplicating,” Kauffman says, “and having a dealership that currently builds out ST1300s start building out Africa Twins. It’s one thing to bring the concept to market. That was a big deal. It took us a long time. There was a lot of trial and error, and we came up with a fabulous product. But it’s another thing to now get other people on board. The reality is it’s got to be turnkey.
“So that’s what’s happening right now. Huntington Honda is actually working on the templates for a new Africa Twin police motorcycle that will be turnkey. Anyone can buy it. It’s great. The bikes are inexpensive. Once we get the outfitting down, it’s going to be way cheaper than buying an ST. It’s going to be half the price of a BMW.”
But even having models outfitted for duty might not be enough, at first. Kauffman’s conviction that a change in motorcycle policing didn’t just come about out of thin air, but after years of experience seeing poor training processes, inappropriate machinery or gear, and stubborn resistance to change.
One instance that Kauffman cites is a recent trip to the Police Unity Tour in Washington, D.C. for Police Week. He and his colleagues stood by watching proceedings, a large group of cyclists converging on the capital after a 300-mile ride and escorted by police motorcycles.
“I’m sitting there talking with a fellow rider—this guy named John Bruce, one of our sergeants,” Kauffman relates. “I’m looking at all these Harley’s come in. We’re looking at the way that officers across America are dressed, wearing the cavalry boots. Even some of them bloused, wool pants, open-face helmets, leather ears. I’m just shaking my head going, ‘This is stupid. Our job is dangerous enough, yet look what’s going on.’ I think the main thing that I’ve seen in my career, kind of the quote, is that I think law enforcement is blinded by tradition. You can’t see the forest through the trees. Everything is progressing around us, yet to make change in our industry is difficult.”
That discussion with Bruce prompted the initial look into adventure bikes as a viable platform for police units. But even as one new idea arises and takes shape, a whole host of other issues come to the fore.
“We’re questioning everything. The uniforms, the helmets, everything. I’ve had the horrible experience of burying three cops, all due to motorcycle accidents on duty. If you do that enough… I’m to the point in my career where obviously now I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to a spot where I have influence and I can effect change. If I don’t do it, who’s going to do it? So I’m trying to go out swinging here, and it’s hard to do. It’s hard to convince people.
“So many people get hurt on police motorcycles. We’re either going to stop using them, or we’re going to use the right product with the right safety gear, and then we could have a whole other conversation about the level of training that we get because it’s too antiquated. Blinded by tradition.”
However, the conversation about training has already started as well, at least for Kauffman. He recently took an Africa Twin to the motor school and was met with resistance.
“I went through motor school on the Africa Twin,” Kauffman says, “and I did it on an automatic, the DCT. When we brought that bike to the motor academy, they said right away, ‘Well, you’re not going to be able to do it because it doesn’t have a clutch.’
“I said, ‘Okay. What won’t I be able to do?’ ‘You won’t be able to do the cone patterns because you don’t have clutch/throttle control. We don’t allow you to use the rear brake.’ I thought, ‘Okay. Let me practice then. No rear brake on a DCT and see if I can get these cone patterns down.’
“I’m not an expert rider. I don’t have time in the saddle like you or like Bill Turner. But the reality is, on that bike, I could beat the vast majority of the field even without a rear brake because the bike is so superior. It’s lighter. It’s balanced better. It has a better turning radius. Seating position is better. Everything was better. So I was able to navigate those cone patterns without using a rear brake at very, very slow speeds. But what even struck me as more odd is if I could do those cones better using a rear brake, why wouldn’t the school let you do it? It’s again, blinded by tradition.”
And the training for Kauffman didn’t stop there. As many with backgrounds in bikes know, getting expert-level coaching at a track can pay huge dividends on the road. So the Africa Twin went to the track, and Jason Pridmore gave his input.
“The first day I brought that bike out to the track, Pridmore was there and he watched me ride it and then he gave me some tips. I went back out and I started turning the bike with my legs. My seating position was different. I started to understand the concepts of trail-braking. Everything he taught me was opposite of what I was taught in a school.
“He would ask me, ‘Why do you do that?’ I’m like, ‘Well, that’s what they taught me.’ He goes, ‘But, okay, that would be for maybe a Harley-Davidson motorcycle or the old Kawasakis, but you’re talking about a 2018 Africa Twin with dual Brembo front disc brakes. You only need one or two fingers on the brake.’ It was crazy.
“My riding got way better in one day. But I was also sick to my stomach because I’m like, ‘Here I am running a police organization and the next kid who wants to ride a motorcycle, our tradition says we’re going to stick him on an ST. We’re going to throw him into this motor school and he’s going to be taught an antiquated method, probably from the ’80s.’ Why are we doing that? The whole system has to change. That’s what we’re working on, all of it. The bike, the training, the equipment. None of it makes sense to me.”
Unfortunately, the effect of subpar education and equipment is already taking its toll. Many departments around the country are opting to discontinue motorcycle police units all together, rather than seek to make motorcycle policing safer for the officers on two wheels.
“They’re removing their programs,” Kauffman continues. “Motor cops. Getting rid of them. They’ll put parameters on them. ‘Well, we don’t want you riding during the peak traffic in the evenings when it’s dark because it’s too dangerous.’ Well, I don’t know. How about let’s get on the right bike with the right equipment and do the right training and do the right enforcement and save more lives in the outcome. It’s just harder to do. Those are kind of the struggles that I deal with and the things that I see.”
Kauffman and those in his court are facing the challenge of changing minds head on though. Last year they rode a few Africa Twins in the same Unity Tour that first prompted the thought to make the switch to adventure bikes. With a full suit of appropriate gear too.
“So now imagine all these motorcyclists from across America coming through the National Law Enforcement Memorial, and here are two guys on Roland Sands-designed, badass Africa Twins, wearing Alpinestars gear, full-face helmets. Literally we were the laughing stock, which is awesome.
“Then any of those motor cops that would come over and look at that bike, I would say, ‘Here’s the waiver. Get on it.’ ‘Well, I don’t think it will do this or that, or it doesn’t have a clutch so you can’t…’ I’m like, ‘Here’s the waiver. Stop talking and get on the bike.’ You know what? No one would do it because they know it’s better.”
The resistance to troubleshoot isn’t just a matter of motorcycles either, in Kauffman’s estimation. Training practices throughout the process of becoming an officer need reworking.
“We’ll send someone to a police academy with a gun,” Kauffman says, “like a hand-me-down because they’re in the police academy. They might fail. I’m not saying we do this now, but I’m saying law enforcement in general.
“Let me give you the scenario. So Adam’s going to go to the police academy and we send you with some piece-of-crap, old gun. You’re going to go and you’re going to fire 5,000 rounds through that gun during training. You’re going to come back to us and you’re going to be a police officer.
“Then we’re going to take that from you and we’re going to hand you a different one and go, ‘Here you go.’ Stupid. Why would we do that? Why wouldn’t we give you and let you train with the tool you were going to use? Same thing happens in motor school. ‘Oh, he’s going to go to motor school? Yeah, he’s probably going to drop that bike a lot because of whatever.’ So here’s a piece-of-crap, old bike, not the type or even one you’re going to ride. You go through the school and you come back and we put you on something else. Some agencies put guys on completely different models. Why would you do that?”
Thankfully for officers entering the Redondo Beach PD, that will no longer be the case. The current fleet of two RSD Africa Twin bikes and a single, stock CRF1000L (used as a training bike) will be joined by more soon. There will be more DCTs on the fleet, but clutch versions as well. Kauffman’s approach is to have a motorcycle that’s appropriate.
“What I care about is I want the bike to fit the rider. So if I’ve got a Bill Turner and he wants to ride the clutch version of the Africa Twin instead of the DCT, so be it. I don’t care. Here’s where I care: If I’ve got a brand-new kid who’s never ridden a motorcycle before, who’s not getting clutch-throttle control, why are we going to do all of this when the DCT is superior?”
You can also believe that Kauffman and his crew will be back in full force for the next Unity Tour, championing the Africa Twin as best as they can to colleagues from around the country. Because change is what is key, opening minds to the possibility that things can be better, not only for a department’s bottom line, but for the riders who already risk enough putting themselves in the line of duty.
“Maintaining the status quo of anything, it can be challenging to even do that,” Kauffman tells us. “In any organization, any agency, it doesn’t matter. Any culture. Maintaining status quo sometimes can even have a challenge. But it’s much easier than effecting change. I think the only thing I want to leave law enforcement with when I’m all done, when I’m off surfing and I hang up the guard belt, I want people to say, ‘That guy, he was a horrible cop but he would go after change. He wasn’t afraid of that.’ If that’s what I leave with, then I’m happy.
“So many things that we do in our industry just don’t make sense. When you push, people get scared. They get nervous. But if you provide good support and you have good leadership from the bottom up, not someone at the top pushing the message down, when that happens, then change will occur.”