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UP’s new ticket to ride

After completing a two-week motorcycle training class this summer, there was only one way to reward officer Mike Purcell. University Police gave him a $18,500 BMW motorcycle, sort of. The motorcycle became an addition to the UP’s fleet in August in an effort to reduce campus crime.

For years, motorcycles have been traditionally used in law enforcement for traffic control, but Purcell said University Police considered a motorcycle more useful for responding to dispatcher calls.

“It seemed that I was able to get to calls a lot quicker,” Purcell said. “Not so much because of the speed, but because of the ability to get through traffic if I had to cut through the core of campus.”

For about two years, UP had the idea to add a motorcycle to its department. It was just a matter of finding how useful it would be and how to budget for one.

After doing research at the University of Central Florida, Purcell said USF found multiple uses for having a motorcycle.

UCF, however, only use its motorcycles for traffic enforcement, said Sgt. Troy Williamson of UCF’s police department.

“We basically have 12-hour shifts and two squads. One for days, one for nights, so the two motorcycles are always on duty,” Williamson said. “It’s just another means of transportation.”

At USF, though, Purcell said UP sees having the motorcycle as more than just a means of transportation.

“I can cover a lot more ground quickly … it increases the level of service,” Purcell said. “The job is not just specific to writing tickets.”

Purcell added that the motorcycle is more cost efficient as well.

University Police is leasing the BMW, which Purcell said has a higher resale value than its patrol cars and also gets better gas mileage. Traditionally a Harley Davidson is used at police departments, but Purcell said the BMW is a safer model.

“These have anti-lock brakes. About 80 percent of (motorcycle) crashes involve improper braking, though it may not be the cause of the accident,” Purcell said. “The program is just in its infancy and if this one is successful, we’ll hopefully add to it.”

But an officer on the seat of a motorcycle cannot simply rely on the brakes to prevent accidents. That is why officers must go to a two-week motorcycle training school to get certified and renew their certification annually.

“The class is known for its extreme difficulty. Let’s just say 18 officers nationally were at the school and only five completed and there were five trips to the hospital,” Purcell said. “They have drills for comfort level to making quick maneuvers through a course.”

Purcell said he had an advantage since he had driven motorcycles before, but an officer who has been driving motorcycles for several years is not always recommended for the job.

“If you’ve been riding for 20 years, there are going to be some bad habits that are hard to break,” Purcell said.

Besides the regular daily duties of an officer, Purcell said adding a motorcycle to the department allows USF to develop a relationship with Hillsborough County law enforcement.

For eight hours a week, he said, he and Officer Mike Rapp, who will also be driving the motorcycle, are required to train with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

It also allows University Police to participate in more community events. On Thursday, Purcell and Rapp joined the Harley Davidson Remembrance Ride along Dale Mabry Highway.

“It is enabling us to get involved in events that extend into the Tampa area,” Purcell said. “We’re always looking for ways to increase our services.”