By The Associated Press
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — In November, the Starkville Police Department was looking for a couple of good men for a new assignment.
Candidates could be assured of being miserably hot in the summer, chilled to the bone in the winter and drenched in rainy weather. In addition, the candidates were assured of performing a tedious, thankless job. Oh, and the job is potentially dangerous.
Not surprisingly, the sign-up sheet was not filled with names. In fact, only three officers offered their services. Ultimately, officers Andy Round and Taylor Wells were chosen.
The two officers this month became the SPD’s first motorcycle unit, since the mid-1970s, and neither seemed daunted by the unique challenges the job presents.
Both are long-time motorcycle enthusiasts. Round, 30, said he started riding, at age 7, on a little Honda 50 motorcycle.
Wells, 34, has been riding 11 years, including some time competing in motocross competitions.
“The way we look at it, when we are off-duty we are riding, whether it’s hot or cold,” Wells said. “We both just love to ride. So when the opportunity came up for us to ride and get paid for it, we jumped at the chance.”
Although both men are veteran riders, the officers needed special instruction for the job and training on the massive Harley Davidson motorcycles they will use when on duty.
The officers spent two weeks in specialized training in Gulfport.
“That’s 80 hours of training,” Wells noted. “I rode 212 miles and never left the parking lot.”
The first lesson?
“Laying the bike down,” Round said. “This is a big bike. And sooner or later, you’re going to go down. Just getting the bike back up is something you have to learn.”
Police Chief David Lindley said the motorcycles will be used primarily for traffic control, where maneuverability of a motorcycle is an asset.
“As Starkville has grown, so too has the traffic congestion,” Lindley said. “It has become a real problem sometimes just getting an officer from Point A to Point B. The motorcycles are really excellent in those situations.”
“Oh, yeah,” Round said. “Even with a bike this big, you can turn it around in one lane. In a patrol (car), you have to go to the next block or wait for traffic to clear to turn around. And when the traffic is heavy, that can take some time.”
Although Lindley recognized the value of motorcycles, he did have reservations about adding them to his fleet. There is, after all, an inherent danger in riding motorcycles, where there is little between the rider and objects with which he might collide.
Although neither officer had any reservations, they did encounter some resistance at home.
“At first, I got a little push back,” said Round, who is married with two children. “They were afraid it would be dangerous. But I took the motorcycle to the bus stop where my kids wait for the bus to school. When all of the other kids got there and started talking about how cool it was, my kids thought it was cool, too. So we’re good.”
Taylor said his girlfriend expressed the same reservations.
“I just told her, ‘Hey, you don’t think twice about it when it’s the weekend and you’re jumping on the back of my bike,'” he said. “So I guess she’s OK with it.”