Motorcycle officers put through paces

TULALIP — More than 160 motorcycle officers from an estimated 70 law enforcement agencies in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Canada turned the southeast parking lot of the Tulalip Resort Hotel and Casino into their training grounds May 13-15.

The Marysville Police Department teamed up with the Tulalip Resort to host this year’s North American Motor Officer Association Training Conference, an event that’s grown each year since NAMOA was founded with 50 members in 1984.

Marysville Patrol Officer James Maples, chair of this year’s NAMOA Training Conference, noted that it can cost a law enforcement agency about half the money to put a traffic officer on a motorcycle than in a car, and added that motorcycles can allow traffic officers greater ease of access than cars.

Bellevue Police Detective Michael Chiu, PIO for the event, explained that the cordoned-off courses’ series of timed and graded maneuvers around traffic cones in preassigned patterns is designed to simulate the difficulty of safely avoiding and moving around obstacles such as other vehicles, pedestrians and roadway debris.

“It’s different than being a civilian rider,” Chiu said. “Whether you’re approaching the scene of an accident or making a sharp U-turn to pursue a suspect, you need to be able to brake, turn and escape potential collisions immediately, and it has to be instinctive. If you need to think about it, it’s too late.”

According to Maples, officers push themselves and their motorcycles to their limits during such training so that they’re not practicing or making mistakes out in the field. Chiu has seen a steady improvement in the riding skill demonstrated during training.

The first two days of the conference gave officers time to practice, while the third pitted them against one another in judged competition. Maples believes the stress of publicly evaluated competition helps give the officers a sense of real-life consequences, while Chiu feels that the competition raises the average level of riding, rather than just focusing praise on a few highly talented officers.

King County Deputy J.D. Craig and Vancouver, B.C., Police Constable Mike Bains chatted as they waited to start their runs. This year marked Craig’s sixth NAMOA Training Conference, and he enjoyed the challenges of a new course, while Bains, a first-time conference participant, touted it as an excellent opportunity to develop his skills.

“You learn a heck of a lot,” Bains said. “I’m more one with the bike now.”

“I also like talking with members of other agencies who I usually only get to see once a year,” Craig said.

Marysville’s Ernie Gerrer heard about the conference from his next-door neighbor, Washington State Patrol Trooper Deion Glover, who attended strictly as a spectator. Gerrer alternated between browsing under the vendors’ tents, whose wares included the Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 motorcycle, and taking in the riders’ runs.

“I’m interested in seeing what they can do with their bikes,” Gerrer said. “A lot of them are really good. You’re not going to outrun them,” he laughed, before turning to Spokane Police Officer Nate Spiering. “Watching you guys throw those bikes around like that is impressive.”

“I’m glad I went this morning, so I could get it out of my system,” Spiering said. “I’m impressed with the coordination of this event. If there’s been a hiccup, I haven’t noticed.”

While Spiering, a first-time participant, admitted to some nervousness, Lane County Deputy Matt Keetle, attending his sixth NAMOA Training Conference, advised participants to focus more on precision than speed.

“If you do your lines right, it shortens your time by itself,” Keetle said. “It’s when you take shortcuts to go faster that you miss your angles and blow it.”

Maples sees the NAMOA Training Conference as educational not only for officers, but also for members of the public, who get to interact with officers in a positive and informative context.

On May 15, participating officers ran a memorial ride from the Tulalip Resort to Fourth Street, heading north on State Avenue to Sound Harley Davidson, and then returning to the resort, in honor of Law Enforcement Memorial Week.

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