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Pride of ownership saves taxpayers

Superior Police Officer Todd Carlson demonstrates the maneuverability of the police department's new motorcycles by driving around small cones. (Maria Lockwood)

There's something different about the Harley-Davidson motorcycles driven by Superior Police officers this year. These are keepers.

After leasing the vehicles for years, the department chose to purchase its own pair of hogs. The 2010 Harley Davidson Electra glides - with equipment and decals - cost $39,900, according to Capt. Matt Markon, but the move is expected to save the department money.

"They keep miles off our squad cars," said Motorcycle Officer Brad Esler, and cost half what a new car does.

When the Superior Police Department began leasing Harley-Davidson motorcycles in 2001, the price was right -- $1 per summer. That deal fell to the wayside four years ago, Markon said. Since then, the department has paid a total of $20,316 to lease a pair of motorcycles each year from La Crosse Area Harley-Davison - $5,180 per year from 2006-2008 and $4,776 last year. Every two years, the department had to take all the equipment off the old machines and put them on the new ones, which was hard on the equipment.

Superior motorcycle officers put about 3,000 to 3,500 miles on each machine per year; with proper maintenance, Markon said, the Harleys can be expected to put on up to 200,000 miles.

"These could last longer than we do on the department," said Motorcycle Officer Todd Carlson.

The city has five motorcycle officers - Esler, Carlson, Jon McKinnon, Gary Gothner and Sgt. Chris Kirchoff. They are used mainly for patrol duty, keeping miles off squad cars. However, if enough officers are on duty, motorcycle officers can specialize in traffic enforcement. They set up with radar beside the road or drive in traffic, where they are less noticeable than squad cars. They can also drive on sidewalks and weave through cars if necessary. That maneuverability comes at a cost. Even with their flashing LED lights and blaring siren, drivers sometimes don't notice motorcycle cops.

"This is the most dangerous job in law enforcement because of that," Carlson said.

The motorcycles also serve as a valuable public relations tool. Motorcycle officers said when they stop at a red light, neighboring drivers will roll down their windows to chat about the Harleys. They attract youth at local fairs and events.

The new Harleys have a wider base and wider wheels than the department's old 2006 motorcycles. They feature LED lights, a separate battery source for the lights, extras such as heated handgrips and a new black-and-white paint scheme. They traveled with officers to Maplewood, Minn. Thursday to take part in a fallen officer's funeral procession. The machines will then head to Madison, where officers will drive them during the state Law Enforcement Memorial ceremony.

"We're excited to show them off," Esler said. They'll be back on the streets of Superior, doing the job for which they were purchased.

"They're not toys," Carlson said. "These are hard working squads. We get a lot of use out of them; we get a lot of value out of them."

They will for years to come.

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