The Wichita Police Department launched its new motorcycle unit Thursday.
Deputy Chief Gavin Seiler said seven officers will patrol high-traffic areas throughout the city.
"We’ll use them for targeting high crash areas in the city and high accident locations," he said at a news conference outside of Exploration Place in downtown Wichita. A row of new motorcycles was on display behind the podium.
The Kansas Department of Transportation says among the state’s largest cities, Wichita had one of the highest rates of traffic crashes and accidents that result in deaths; that’s one of the reasons why the Wichita Police Department decided to bring back a motorcycle unit. The last time officers used motorcycles for traffic patrols was in 2001.
Officer Craig Train was one of two instructors who underwent several weeks of operator training and then provided training for the new team. The officers will be patrolling year-round except when there's ice or snow.
"The gear that we are wearing is Kevlar, and it also has extra padding inside of it for protection," Train says. "As far as the cold weather, we won’t ride below 20 degrees. You lose dexterity and your reaction time becomes slower."
Train says motorcycles can maneuver through traffic quicker than cars, and they’re able to get within construction zones to watch for traffic violations.
KDOT provided a grant of $300,000 to the Wichita Police Department to pay for the motorcycles and related equipment.
Speaking at the news conference Thursday, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell called the addition of the motorcycle unit “an innovative solution to public safety.” The unit demonstrated some riding maneuvers on McLean Boulevard.
Seiler says Wichita Police disbanded its motorcycle unit in 2001 to expand coordination with beat officers, enhance cross-utilization and improve neighborhood responsiveness. The department reorganized its traffic bureau last year.
Since 2004, KDOT’s data indicates the average number of traffic fatalities in Wichita per 100,000 residents has exceeded the rate of the previous 12-year period (from 1992 to 2003). At the same time, the rate of fatalities in the United States has decreased approximately 25 percent from the 2004 level.
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