BAXTER - For the first time in about 60 years, State Patrol troopers will be cruising the Brainerd area on motorcycles.
At least through the weekend, that is.
Normally on patrol in the Twin Cities metro area, the motorcycle troopers were temporarily assigned along with several other troopers to the Brainerd State Patrol District in conjunction with NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
With thousands of people descending upon the speedway this weekend, the motorcycle troopers' main job will be traffic enforcement, said Brainerd State Patrol Capt. Mark Jonassen.
"We are very excited. It's adding a whole new dimension to enforcement," Jonassen said. "There have been no fatal or serious crashes related to BIR the past three years. ... That's a darn good record and we want to keep it going."
Minnesota State Patrol troopers Eddie Carroll (left) and Richard Wegner and two other troopers were on motorcycle patrol in the Brainerd area through the weekend.
For the first time since 1948, State Patrol troopers are policing the highways on motorcycles this summer.
» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Brainerd Dispatch/ Nels Norquist
Though the main focus will be on highways around BIR, Jonassen said the motorcycle troopers will have free reign to patrol state highways in all seven counties within the Brainerd State Patrol District.
Troopers patrolling on motorcycles are part of a one-year pilot program started in May. There are five motorcycle troopers in the state and four will be patrolling the Brainerd District this weekend.
"It's a great honor," said Trooper Joe Heyman, who along with Troopers Richard Wegner and Eddie Carroll arrived Thursday in Brainerd. "It's a piece of history and it's fun to ride - that's the whole draw right there."
Added Wegner, "I think for all of us, it's something different for patrolling. We've all been on for several years each and, like Joe said, this is a piece of history."
WE SPOTTED: » State Patrol motorcycle cops 16 Photos
With a low profile, the advantages of the motorcycle include the ability to be able to target aggressive and impaired drivers, Jonassen said. A smaller vehicle also helps troopers get places squad cars cannot.
"These guys can get in and out of nearly everything," Jonassen said.
Heyman said the biggest differences between patrolling on a motorcycle versus a squad car are the ability to see into vehicles, get to vehicles quicker and the fact that motorists don't expect to see a trooper on a motorcycle.
"People never expect us on bikes," Wegner said.
Whether the State Patrol's motorcycle program will be continued after this year has not been determined. One benefit is that a squad costs about 40 cents per mile to operate, while a motorcycle costs between 11-15 cents per mile, Jonassen said.
The downside to the motorcycles is that they can only be used about six months out of the year, only during daylight hours and never in inclement weather. The motorcycle troopers also have squads in case they cannot use their motorcycles.
Wegner said about 30 troopers applied for the motorcycle patrol pilot program. After two weeks of schooling, the motorcycle troopers began patrolling Twin Cities highways. Also, the motorcycle troopers travel to Minnesota areas holding special, high-traffic events, such as in Detroit Lakes during We Fest or on Interstate 90 during the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota.
The motorcycles are Harley-Davidson 103s. They feature all the regular gadgets State Patrol squad cars have - lights, sirens, radios, radar and onboard computers. Also featured prominently on the motorcycles and the troopers' helmets are the badge and logo from the 1929 State Patrol, the first year of the law enforcement organization.
Heyman, as well as the others, ride motorcycles when they're not at work, but he admitted he hasn't put on as many miles this summer when he patrols up to 10 hours a day.
Heyman and the others are hoping the pilot program is repeated next year.
"Over the winter the chief (Mark Dunaski) will decide if it's cost-effective," Wegner said. "Hopefully in the spring they'll tell us to come and get them."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.