Police Motor Units
The History of Motorcycle Law Enforcement

 "Virtual Museum"


Front of Coin

Back of Coin

Pittsburgh Police Department

98 years of police motorcycles
By Lt. Joseph Tersak and James Craig
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2007.  A large part of that history is the Pittsburgh Police Motorcycle unit, which is currently, in its 98th year. 
     The Pittsburgh Police began its motorcycle unit and its relationship with Harley-Davidson in 1909 with the purchase of five police motorcycles.  The officers and their motorcycles were immediately pressed into service and proved their worth during the streetcar strike of 1909. This was closely followed by the opening of Forbes Field, which was home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  the officers proved their ability to manage major events during the baseball season, culminating with the Pirates playing in the 1909 World Series.  During that year, the officers also provided the first of their countless Presidential escorts when the Chief Executive visited the city. 
     The value of the police motorcycle unit was immediately evident, as the Superintendent of Police requested the expansion of the unit.  In his address to City Council in regard to the 1910 budget, he requested funding and officers for five additional police motorcycles.
     This was the beginning of a long proud traditionof police motorcycles and Pittsburgh Police.  Pittsburgh Police officers have been riding Harley Davidson motorcycles continually since the inception of the unit.  The officers ride year round, with sidecars being used for winter months of what can be harsh Pittsburgh winters.
     Through the years, the motorcycle unit has changed in size and location.  During the 1990s, the unit was at its largest and was assigned to a separate Traffic Division.  At that time, there were sixty four FXRP motorcycles assigned.  The motorcycle unit is currently part of the Special Deployment Division.  The SDD also includes officers assigned to the Bicycle Unit, Street Response Unit, SWAT and River Rescue.  There are currently twenty seven 2005 Road King motorcycles in the SDD.
     Along with the tradition of the unit, there have also been family traditions.  One family has had three generations performing motorcycle duties.  Roy Freiss was followed by his son Bill, who was then followed by his own sons, Bill and Tom.  Some officers have gone on to other assignments, such as the Chief of Police, Nathan Harper, who served as both a motorcycle sergeant before his promotion.
     In an effort to ensure that officers have the skill and experience to stay safe while on patrol, all officers must complete rigorous training to ride as part of the unit.  Newly assigned officers must complete a eighty hour riding course.  All assigned officers must complete a forty hour in-service training on a yearly basis.
      The Pittsburgh Police are currently in the process of upgrading the motorcycle fleet, with a intention of replacing the current motorcycles with 2008 Electra Glide models with sidecars.
     Officers assigned realize that they are part of a long and proud tradition and look forward to the 100th anniversary.  They hope that the motorcycle unit continues for years to come with the same success they've had since 1909.



Pittsburgh Police Motorcycle Unit
100 Years of Police Motorcycles
By LT. Joseph Tersak Jr.



     The Pittsburgh Police Motorcycle unit entered its second century of service in the year 2010.  The motorcycle unit rides 2008 Harley-Davidson Electra Glides motorcycles.  There are thirty front-line motorcycles, along with five 2005 Harley-Davidson Road King motorcycles.  The Road King motorcycles serve as spares for the use of all officers when their assigned motorcycle is out of service for maintenance.  Each officer in the unit has a motorcycle assigned to him, and is responsible for the physical appearance and upkeep of the cycle, as well as scheduling all required maintenance.  Each officer has his name placed on the right side of the front fender, which serves as a great source of pride to the officer.  There is currently one lieutenant, three sergeants, and twenty-four police officers assigned to motorcycle duties.     
     First riding in the 1909, the motorcycle unit has been in continuous service since its inception.  Due to the harsh weather conditions of the Pittsburgh winters, officers ride during these months with use of sidecars.  When the fleet was replaced in 2008, the sidecar fleet was also updated.  The motorcycle unit currently possesses 30 2008 Harley-Davidson TLE sidecars.  Originally ordered white, the added graphics now match the black-and-white paint scheme of the motorcycle, and the “Pittsburgh Police” markings on the sidecar match the markings of the Pittsburgh Police cars and wagons.    
     During the most extreme days of winter, officers have ridden in sub-zero temperatures, and whatever snow and ice the season brings.  The ability to ride in these grueling conditions was tested during the winter of 2010 as seldom before.     
      In February 2010, an unpredicted winter storm dropped two feet of snow on the city within 24-hour period.  This was immediately followed by two more days of heavy snow.  In all, 40 inches of snow was on the roadway within three days.  During the month of February, the snowfall total set a new record.  At the end of the three-day snow event, the mayor declared a snow emergency.  Schools and universities cancelled their classes for the following week.     
     The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police was placed into emergency status.  All days off were cancelled, and officers were placed on 12-hour shift.  At the end of their regularly scheduled eight-hour shifts, all detectives were held over for four additional hours of uniformed duties.  As part of the snow emergency, a request for assistance was sent to the Pennsylvania National Guard.  During the public safety response to the snow emergency, each police station was assigned two National Guard HUMVEE’s with two soldiers in each vehicle.  Their mission was not to patrol, but to pick up any police officers who could not make it to their assigned call due to road conditions and then to drive then to that location.  In addition to those HUMVEEs assigned to support the police, each medic station had an ambulance HUMVEE assigned.  Their mission was the same, to transport medics to calls that their ambulance could not make it to.    
     During this time, officers assigned to the motorcycle unit report to work each day on their motorcycle.  All motorcycle officers were assigned to work from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.  Officers were assigned to traffic posts in the downtown Pittsburgh area to assist with the flow of traffic during both AM and PM rush hours.  Almost all of the four lane main streets downtown were plowed to permit one lane of traffic flow in each direction.  In-between these times, officers patrolled on their motorcycles to assist stranded motorist, and to handle accident scenes and any other traffic-related problems.  Motorcycle officers assist Public Works with snow on the main roadways.  Clearing of the roadways by snow plows was not possible in all locations because of abandoned cars.        
     During the time of the snow emergency, the conditions push both officers and motorcycles to the extreme of their abilities.  All assigned officers performed their duties in an exemplary manner.  Not only did the officers need to ride in the snow, but once plowed, many streets were left with a thick coating of ice that could not be scrapped off by the plows.  Also, the temperatures in the early hours of the shift were in single digits, and seldom went above twenty degrees.  In credit to their fortitude and dedication, not one shift was missed by any assigned officer, despite the physical demands that the conditions placed upon their body.  Also, in credit to the amount of time officers spend training on their motorcycle, not one officer was involved in an accident during the snow emergency.  As the emergency passed, officers were still faced with riding in another six weeks of snow and cold temperatures, although not to the extreme of early February.      
     In the long and proud history of the Pittsburgh Police Motorcycle Unit, there have been countless times that the officers have risen to the occasion of difficult duties.  The mission completed by the current members of the motorcycle unit during the snow emergency of February 2010 will add to this proud history.
Photo provided by Ken S.
1923 Harley-Davidson News Ad
1925 Harley-Davidson Model JDcb
1933 Harley-Davidson Model VL
Pittsburgh Police Officer Lloyd Epler around 1939
Photo provided by Ken S.
Photo provided by Ken S.
1958 Harley-Davidson Model G Servicar
Photo provided by Ken S.
Photo provided by Ken S.
Photo provided by Ken S.
1990 Harley-Davidson Model FXRP
Photo provided by Ken S.
Photo provided by Ken S.
Naval Base, Pittsburgh, PA Police Department
Riverview Park 100th Ann.
Photo provided by Ken S
2007 Motor Unit
Jan 2014
Jan 2014

Photos and information provided by Pittsburgh, PA Police Department. The history article can be found in "The Mounted Officer" Fall 07 by Harley-Davidson, The article "365 Days a Year" can be found in the Fall 2010 issue of "The Motor Officer" by Harley-Davidson.
Some photos provided by Ken S. and members of the Pittsburgh PD Motor Unit