We Tag Along For A Shift With Motorcycle Cops
You might think bike cops have one of the coolest jobs around – and after spending a day following them on our bike we can confirm that really is the case.
SuperUnleaded was invited to tag along with the Joint Operations Unit Three Mile Cross Roads Policing, or Thames Valley traffic cops for short, so we dusted off our BMW GS, polished our helmet and hit the road.
Here’s what we got up to.
When Sergeant James Atkinson is on shift he’s in charge of eight PCs. He splits them between marked and unmarked police cars and bikes. He’s an avid biker so usually takes to the road on one of the force’s marked BMW RTs. “Sometimes I’ll take the unmarked bike too, but I prefer the marked ones,” he says.
Sgt Atkinson, 45, has been in the force for nearly 18 years, 12 of those have been with the traffic department. He’s been riding since he was 21 and has a 1998 Honda Fireblade that ‘sees little sunshine’ and a BMW K1300S of his own.
He loves his job. “I like the fact you make a real difference as a traffic cop, it’s instant justice at the side of the road,” he says.
“The RT is a great road bike and fantastic for what we do,” says Sgt Atkinson. It’s fitted with an extra loud siren, front and rear blue lights and heated grips. “It performs really well, it has presence and is stable.”
Thames Valley Police use bikes in all weather, until it drops below 3 degrees C. “Then we have to make a risk assessment as to whether it’s safe,” explains the Sgt.
Thames Valley Police stopped using bikes to police roads for around six years, says Sgt Atkinson. It was when the force was using Honda Pan Europeans, the infamous wobble at speed was detected and they were deemed unsafe. But now they’re back on BMWs and he feels the force is stronger as a result.
Police bikes offer an elevated riding position for a better view of the road and they’re highly maneuverable. “I can filter and spot drivers committing offences in traffic and we’re very visible which is great PR,” says Sgt Atkinson. “Bikes strike up a conversation and it helps us promote our road safety messages.”
Sgt Atkinson has no set agenda when he starts his shift and is free to police the roads as he sees fit. “We’ll have a meeting at the beginning of the shift to discuss anything major that has happened or any intelligence we’ve received,” he explains. “We might agree to meet at a certain location for a road check but, in general, officers are free to police as they see fit.”
On an average shift, Sgt Atkinson’s team will hand out between five and 10 speeding tickets, around the same for using mobile phones and the same again for driving without a seatbelt. “The latter is still a big problem – it’s a generational thing,” he says.
Being a bike cop is an elite job in the force. Riders have to take a four-week advanced course which Sgt Atkinson says is “very intensive”. Every year after passing the test, bike cops have a one-day assessment and every three years are given a seven-day refresher. “This is more than for the cars,” he says.
First Stop: Reading
After around an hour on the road, we head to one of Sgt Atkinson’s favourite spots in the middle of Reading. He’s hidden from view just behind a corner with a perfect view of a busy dual carriageway. It’s a prime spot for drivers using their mobile phones so we sit and wait.
Ironically we miss Sgt Atkinson shoot off after an offender because we were, er, on our mobile phone. Before we’ve even got our gloves on, he’s pulled a rather angry driver over for holding her phone in front of her face and talking on speaker phone. “She swore a lot at me, which didn’t help her cause,” said the Sgt. She’s given three points and a £100 fine.
Outside of Reading we follow a silver BMW who fails to slow down from a 40mph to a 30mph zone. He then turns left without indicating – a real bug bear of Sgt Atkinson’s – so the lights go on and he pulls him over. “I gave him a serious talking to,” he later explains. “Policing isn’t all about tickets, it’s about education too.”
On the A329M, a busy trunk road, we find a foreign truck pulled up on the hard shoulder. Sgt Atkinson stops to find out what’s gone wrong. “He was making himself a cup of tea,” he says. “I explained the dangers of stopping on the hard shoulder and told him to move on.”
On the A3290 we spot a Vauxhall Corsa broken down (shock) at the side of the road . The owners are on their way to a funeral and a minute after we arrive, fellow mourners pull up in another car and take them away. “I’ll notify the control room the car is there and if it’s not gone within an hour we’ll have it removed,” says Sgt Atkinson.
The next three stops are all for drivers using their mobile phones at the wheel. One said they were just checking the time on it. “It’s a growing problem especially with drivers updating social media – that’s the most common reason for them to use their phones at the wheel now,” explains Sgt Atkinson.
Overall the shift has been unusually quiet, explains the Sgt. “You never know what is going to happen when you get out on the roads, but I must admit today has been strangely quiet.” Elsewhere his officers have been dealing with a lorry that has hit a low bridge and some minor collisions.
As we’re driving back to the base, a motorist flags us down. He tells us around the corner a man is lying on his back after an apparent assault. Sgt Atkinson tries to establish what has happened as an ambulance attends to the man. It soon becomes clear there was no assault and he’s just drunk…
When the drunk comes round he gets abusive. He shouts at the Sgt and abuses us as he staggers past. Charming. As we ride off he’s swaying by the roundabout. “Look, a pig in a blanket,” he shouts at Sgt Atkinson and points a camera phone at him. I often wonder how the police manage to keep their cool in such situations.
Back at base we ask Sgt Atkinson if he had one piece of advice for bikers what it would be? “Always be able to stop on your side of road in a distance you can see to be clear,” he says. “If you’re going into a corner too fast and can’t see there’s a combine harvester doing 20mph on the other side then you’re dead.”
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