Two-Wheelers Stay on Traffic Beat Elsewhere : Crime Claims One More Victim as 'Motor Cops' Ride Out of Hawthorne

July 12, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

The motorcycle cop, whose image in the rear view mirror can make even the most law-abiding motorist nervous, has ridden out of Hawthorne.

Hawthorne police officials say an increase in street gang activity and drug dealing in the city has forced them to transfer their last two motorcycle officers to another division.

But for most other South Bay police departments, the two-wheelers, with their quick acceleration and their ability to weave in and out of heavy traffic, remain a vital part of traffic enforcement.

Effective in Traffic Control

" 'Motors' are the most effective way to enforce traffic laws," said Torrance Police Lt. Dennis Frandsen, who oversees his department's 16 motorcycle officers. "Particularly nowadays when we have near-gridlock situations."

Of the 10 police departments that serve the South Bay, seven, including the Los Angeles Police Department, maintain motorcycle traffic patrols.

In addition to Hawthorne, the other South Bay departments that do not have motorcycle patrols are Hermosa Beach, which discontinued them its patrol seven months ago, and Palos Verdes Estates, which has not had motorcycle patrols since the 1940s.

(The Sheriff's Department, which provides law enforcement in Carson, Lawndale, Lomita, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates, does not use motorcycle officers, except in a reserve unit that turns out for special occasions such as parades or crowd control.)

But while Hawthorne has eliminated its motorcycles, at least two other departments have recently bolstered their patrols.

Gardena, which began using motorcycles three years ago to deal with increased traffic, purchased three of Hawthorne's machines, increasing its fleet from two to four and providing one motorcycle to be used for spare parts.

Nine Officers Assigned to Motorcycles

Inglewood last year increased its motorcycle force from seven to nine by reassigning two traffic officers from a patrol car to motorcycles.

"Because of special events sites such as the Forum and Hollywood Park, and the proximity to the airport, we have special traffic needs," said Inglewood Police Lt. Jon Oliver.

"The two additional officers riding motors will make a difference."

A spokesman for the state Office of Traffic Safety, which provides grants to cities for traffic safety programs, said motorcycles have a "definite place" in traffic safety.

Don Costan said his office does not maintain any statistics on the number of police agencies that use motorcycles, but he said their use fluctuates.

"A few years ago many agencies were phasing out their motors," he said, noting that motorcycles can be hazardous because the officers have little protection in accidents. That risk also increases insurance premiums.

But as traffic has increased and patrol cars get mired in the congestion, Costan said, more agencies are returning to motorcycles. "In recent years cities have found they could not get through without them," he said.

Redondo Beach was able to add two motorcycle officers and a sergeant last year through a grant from the state traffic safety office.

Redondo Beach Lt. Larry Sprengel said his city has increased its motorcycle patrol gradually since 1977, when only two were used. The city currently has 10 motorcycle officers.

Faster Response

"In a beach community like ours, with traffic getting the way it is--and probably getting worse--it is a necessity," Sprengel said. "We can respond to calls so much faster on a motor."

Manhattan Beach Police Officer Steve Fletcher said his city could probably use more than the five motorcycle officers it has now. He said his city's many narrow streets are often congested by motorists driving to or from Los Angeles International Airport and El Segundo, a major employment area.

El Segundo Traffic Sgt. Mike Lunsford, who oversees six motorcycle officers, said traffic enforcement has always been among the lower priorities in law enforcement. Yet, he said, there are more injuries and deaths in traffic accidents than in burglaries and other higher priority police calls. He said motorcycle officers also have a negative image.

"The public is glad to see a patrol car cop after they have been burglarized or victimized in some other way," he said, "but they are seldom glad to see the motor cop show up."

None Since the '40s

Palos Verdes Estates residents haven't seen a motorcycle officer within their city boundaries since the 1940s, but that may change.

Capt. Mike Tracy said that even in his predominantly residential community, traffic problems are developing.

"We are experiencing gridlock" along Palos Verdes Drives North and East, he said.

Tracy said he would like the city to explore the possibility of applying for a state grant to add motorcycle officers to his department.

Expected to Return

In Hermosa Beach, which had five motorcycle traffic cops two years ago, some officers expect that the motorcycles will return.

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