Officer Steven Phillips trained every motorcycle cop in the Westminster, Ca., Police Department. With 13 years’ experience, he could ride circles around everyone else, says the Los Angeles Times. Two weeks ago, a driver cut in front of him and he was killed in an accident. He was the fourth Orange County motorcycle officer in four years to be killed in a traffic mishap, the highest number in any California county. Statewide, nine officers have died in the same period.
The number of Orange County deaths points to the risks motor officers face in the suburbs. “You just don’t need motorcycles in some of these outlying areas,” said George Nuttall, a retired captain and motorcycle instructor in the California Highway Patrol. “The sad thing about these accidents is that, if they were in a patrol car, they’d be OK.”
In Orange County, the Sheriff’s Department went from six motorcycle officers in 1991 to 33 last year. The California Highway Patrol has added 125 cycles in the last four years as towns have grown quickly up and down the state.
Police departments say the maneuverability that motorcycles offer is crucial. “Sometimes a motorcycle can weave through traffic while all a patrol car can do is sit and wait,” said Paul Sorrell, the police chief of Fountain Valley, a bedroom community in Orange County with little crime but lots of traffic. Traffic enforcement prevents accidents, he said. Because motorcycles do that, “we need them out there.”
Motorcycles.are the most hazardous form of motor vehicle transportation. Federal data show that in 2002, 20.9 cars out of 100,000 ended up in fatal crashes. Motorcycles had more than three times that rate with 66.7 out of 100,000 involved in fatal crashes. The vehicles are so dangerous that most police departments offer motor officers hazard pay – the same benefit given to members of bomb squads and SWAT teams. “They say there are two types of motor officers,” said Los Angeles Police Lt. Geoff Taylor. “Those who go down, and those who are going to go down.”