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Chief: constraints of motorcycles too much for rising costs, tighter budget

If you feel like it's been a while since you've seen any Newberg-Dundee Police Department motorcycles in the community enforcing traffic laws, that's because they haven't been.

The department shuttered the two-bike program in January, according to Police Chief Brian Casey, after he took a long look at the program and found its high costs and constant training wasn't giving the community "the best bang for our buck."PMG FILE PHOTO - The Newberg-Dundee Police Department defunded its motorcycle officer positions in January as a cost-cutting measures.

Six months later, he said the affected officers are out in the community more in vehicles that give them more flexibility and safety in doing their jobs.

"In retrospect, this was the best decision I've made in 10 years, and it should have been done five years ago," Casey said.

That decision was actually made about a year ago going into the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which was the point when the department's two motorcycles were scheduled to be retired and replaced.

While the program dates back to before Casey's tenure as chief, he explained that the program had been made possible for many years due to a deal with motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson. That deal allowed the city to lease two motorcycles for $500 each per year, both of which would be replaced every two years.

That deal eventually ended and the city bought two motorcycles of its own, but Casey said that was at a time when they were still relatively cheap compared to prices now.

As those motorcycles were coming to the end of their effective use last year, Casey said the department would have had to come up with $70,000 to replace them on top of their annual aim of replacing two patrol cars per year at $45,000 apiece – an unlikely prospect as city funding has been getting increasingly tighter.

"In addition to that, honestly the motor program is just a money pit. I mean, it just soaks money up like crazy," Casey said, noting how the attire for motorcycle-mounted officer alone is $400.

Beyond that, he said motorcycles impose a number of unnecessary limits on officers: they are out of action during inclement weather, they are unable to single-handedly make an arrest during a traffic stop and each officer must go through 10 hours of training per month.

That last constraint meant that those officers were not out in the community during that monthly training and another officer had to be called in, potentially for an overtime shift, to fill the hole.

Cars, on the other hand, are not subject to those constraints, are more flexible in how they can be used and can be driven by any officer – as opposed to just the one trained to use a motorcycle.

He noted that motorcycles are useful in some ways, such as easily navigating through big traffic jams in larger cities. Furthermore, they are symbolic to drivers passing them that the rules of the road are being enforced in a community.

Yet, since motorcycles were phased out, he said productivity and traffic citations have increased – though he noted that the department gives out as many warnings and treats traffic enforcement like a public safety and education program.

He acknowledged that the affected officers would have preferred to continue using motorcycles, but he summarized that the decision has saved the department money while making those officers safer, more productive and multifunctional.

"It's a nice luxury to have if you can afford it," Casey said of the motorcycle program. "For a city our size, it just came down to dollars and cents, and if you're going to be fiscally responsible to our taxpayers, this was the best decision that we could have possibly made."

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