When Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Police Officer Trevor Phillips died in a motorcycle collision while escorting a funeral, it brought back some thoughts I’ve expressed to many but have yet to make those thoughts public.
I hesitate somewhat to air these thoughts now, but I believe there’s an urgency in our profession. Although this runs the risk of seeming callous or judgmental, I’ll entrust you, the reader, to judge that is not the case. Line of duty deaths in our profession always place the fallen officers in a heroic light and the cause of that death—whether deemed non-felonious or a violent attack—has nothing to do with how that officer should be perceived, honored and memorialized. Like the other 71 officers that gave their life for our profession and their community this year, Officer Phillips is a hero in the truest sense of the word and it is because of his sacrifice I believe we should look at how these sacrifices are occurring.
I first became aware of escort deaths in 2006, when Honolulu Officer Steve Favela was killed outside Hickam Air Force Base while escorting the motorcade of President George W. Bush. I remember thinking at the time that while I respect President Bush, our life was not worth that. It wasn’t taking a bullet or defending a life. It was an escort—which could have been done in a patrol vehicle.
Just a few weeks ago, Tennessee Trooper Andrew Wall was killed on his motorcycle while escorting members of the United States Air Force’s Thunderbirds to an air show. The deaths of Trooper Wall and Officer Phillips aren’t unique. If you look back through the years, you’ll see many others. I believe it’s time we ask ourselves, as a profession, if we’re doing everything we can do to limit the risks we face.
I understand the value of using motorcycles in our profession. Their maneuverability and versatility have helped improve response times and give definite advantages to traffic enforcement. But I believe it’s time we reexamine the tradition of running escorts on motorcycles in our profession.
There may be advantages, but at what cost? Having considered it at length, I believe the cost is too great. If we’re truly serious about eliminating the risks that are within our control, then as a profession we should consider using patrol vehicles instead of motorcycles.
Now, I understand this stance won’t exactly make me popular. I have many friends that ride bikes on duty. Like Trooper Wall and Officer Phillips, they are some of the best officers I know. They are highly trained to do that job function and really are the best of the best in our profession. There’s nothing like a police officer on a motorcycle to serve as an ambassador of our profession. My kids could care less what rank I am or what I’ve done, but show them a motor officer and they can’t get enough.
With that said, are we willing to continue to lose our finest men and women behind the badge running escorts on motorcycles? After all, not taking a backing officer is an unnecessary risk, so we take backers. Always having to go “hands on” with a suspect in a force situation can create unnecessary risks, so we provide alternative means such as batons and tasers. Exposing ourselves to a car window or doorway is an unnecessary risk, so we don’t do that either. Why do we continue to use motorcycles when a car would be much safer?
A retired trooper and current criminal justice academy director summed up this issue up best: “My best friend died on a police bike and these risks are absolutely not worth it.”
I’ve made my decision. Although I’m in no position to make this call for our profession, if I could, I’d take away all of the unnecessary risks that we face. Using motorcycles in the place of vehicles is one of those unnecessary risks.
Travis Yates is a writer and editor at Law Officer. An ILEETA Trainer of the Year, his Seminars in Risk Management & Officer Safety have been taught across the United States & Canada. Major Yates is a current Doctoral Student in Strategic Leadership and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the Director of Training for Law Officer (www.lawofficer.com) and the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute (www.courageousleader.org), providing leadership consulting and training to law enforcement around the world.