Safe Riding

Keeping it Safe – An Interview with Traffic Officer Ken Buck of the Gladstone P.D.

Written by  April 30, 2004

Have you ever dreamed of a job that paid you for riding a motorcycle? I recently had a chat with someone who has such a job. His ride is a beautiful blue Harley-Davidson Road King with lots of extra lights and special radio equipment. He’s Traffic Officer Ken Buck, and he’s been with the Gladstone Police Department for 25 years. One of his chief concerns is to make the streets safer for all of us whether we are riding or driving, and he takes that responsibility very seriously. Obedience to traffic laws will have the double benefit of increasing our safety and avoiding the sight of Officer Buck’s flashing lights in our rear view mirrors.

Ken began his career as a dispatcher and was assigned to the street a couple of years later. He worked in police cars for a year before being assigned to motorcycle patrol. I consider myself fortunate to have had access to such an experienced motor officer for the following interview.

CC: What is the name of your unit?

Officer Buck: We’re part of the Gladstone Traffic Safety Unit.

CC: How many officers and motorcycles are assigned to the unit?
Officer Buck: There are two officers and two bikes. We each are assigned our own

CC: Why did you choose the motorcycle career path?

Officer Buck: I had enjoyed riding dirt bikes as a kid. Dad wouldn’t let me have a car when I was 16, but he let me have a Honda XL250. I don’t understand the logic of that. I wouldn’t put my kid out on a motorcycle at that age.

CC: What are your duties as a traffic officer?

Officer Buck: Our primary assignment is accident reduction and investigation. We seek to achieve reduction through enforcement concentrating mainly on the primary accident areas, the major streets.

CC: What are the qualifications to be an officer on a motorcycle?

Officer Buck: We must first meet qualifications to get into the traffic unit. In larger cities the motorcycle officers primarily enforce traffic laws and direct traffic at accidents, parades, etc. In Gladstone, since we’re smaller, we are required to complete advanced accident investigation training. It’s complex with a lot of math involved.

CC: To become a motorcycle officer here, is previous riding experience necessary?

Officer Buck: Not necessarily. When there is an opening, the candidate is selected who is considered best qualified to fill the position.

CC: What kind of training is involved?

Officer Buck: Training is done at the Kansas City Police Motorcycle Training Academy. It’s basically a week of intense skills training followed by a couple of days of field training during which the trainee spends time riding with an experienced motor officer. Most of the exercises involve bike maneuvering, clutch control, and eye-hand-throttle coordination. There’s a lot of emphasis on correct braking. There is none of the stuff you hear about where they teach you to lay the bike down. The goal is to stay up on the bike and control it. There is emphasis on evasive maneuvers, at speed and under braking. It’s important not to hit the marker cones. If you do, it’s considered an accident.

CC: Does the training include many of the same skills taught in advanced rider training seminars?

Officer Buck: I’m sure there are similarities.

CC: What are the hours of operation for the motorcycles and are they different from the cars?

Officer Buck: That depends on the schedule of the individual officer. Currently it’s just the day shift. In the past I have worked evening and night shifts on the bike.

CC: What do you do when weather prevents the use of the motorcycle?

Officer Buck: There is no pressure from the department to ride or not to ride. It’s at the discretion of the individual officer. We keep the bikes at our homes, and there is a car assigned to the unit for us to use when we are not riding. In my opinion, there are about forty days per year that are good for motorcycle patrol. The rest are too hot, too cold, too windy, or too wet. Also, since we work accidents, we take into consideration that in bad weather it benefits those involved for them to have a patrol car to sit in while the accident is being worked and paper work is being completed.

CC: About how much time do you spend on the street as opposed to doing office work?

Officer Buck: We are primarily on the street. It really depends on how many accidents we work. Sometimes there will be a week with only two, and sometimes there might be six in one day.

CC: As you know, there has been a great deal of controversy about pursuits. What’s Gladstone PD’s policy and is it different for the cars vs the motorcycles?

Officer Buck: The policy here is to pursue only if it’s a life-threatening situation. My personal policy is that it’s not very smart to pursue on a motorcycle. The margin for error is little or none. There are circumstances where I would do it, but they are few and far-between. My boys asked me one time if I had chased anyone. I told them they needed a father, so that wouldn’t be happening much.

CC: How often are the bikes replaced?

Officer Buck: We get new Road Kings every year.

CC: Has the department used Harleys throughout your career?

Officer Buck: I started on a Kawasaki. Later we changed to Harley FXRs. In the early 90’s we changed to Road Kings.

CC: Did you notice much difference?

Officer Buck: I much prefer the feel of the Road King. It’s a very comfortable and functional machine. It’s not that I’m a total Harley freak. I’ve ridden dirt bikes, and I’d like to have a crotch-rocket of my own to play with. A Honda Gold Wing would make a good police bike being water-cooled with shaft drive and a low center of gravity. I don’t know why they haven’t done that. I have heard that Honda is coming out with a V-4 police bike.

CC: Are there any special modifications to the police bikes to enhance performance?

Officer Buck: The tires are different. They are the run-flat type of tire with stiffer sidewalls. The dealer changes the exhaust and the air cleaner setup.

CC: Does the stock electrical system handle the drain from the lights, siren, and radio equipment?

Officer Buck: The factory electrical system is sufficient, but I try to minimize the amount of time the bike is parked with the emergency lights operating. At idle, the charging system doesn’t keep up with the current drain. The LED lights in use now require less current.

CC: Please describe the special controls and equipment on the police bikes.

Officer Buck: The emergency controls are red in color and are easily accessible. On the right, there is a two-position switch for flashing lights. One position is four-way, and the other is rear-only. Near the location of the high-beam/low-beam switch on a normal Road King is the siren on/off switch. The switch on the left controls the horn and switches the siren between the wailing and yelping sounds. The horn is amplified through the siren, so the stock horn is disconnected. The radar unit is omni-directional.

CC: Is maintenance done in-house or contracted out?

Officer Buck: It’s done at Worth Harley-Davidson here in Gladstone. They treat us really well.

CC: Do you own a personal motorcycle?

Officer Buck: Yes, I do.

CC: You don’t get tired of riding? You’re out on the street all day, and then you get back on a bike during your time off.

Officer Buck: It’s that whole deal that you know about. Right? It’s getting together with your buddies to ride and mess around. I had an '89 FXR that I bought in pieces and put back together, so it was different from the Road King that I ride on my shift. I recently bought a Screaming Eagle Road Glide, so it’s very similar. I really enjoy the social aspect of riding.

CC: Please talk a bit about the rewarding aspects and of your job.

Officer Buck: It’s mainly just personal satisfaction. It’s an opportunity to be outside and enjoy being on a motorcycle. From my own standpoint, I’m a pretty aggressive worker and the motorcycle sometimes offers better opportunities to do the work. For example, it’s much easier to view license plates and temporary permits, etc. One of the great aspects of my job is the opportunity to be involved in special events. We are often called to assist with events in smaller cities when they need extra help. We help out with parades, charity runs, etc. It’s an opportunity to get out there and meet people. Another benefit is the public relations aspect. We are very accessible to the public. A lot of people, young and old, are interested in the bikes and like to visit with the officers about their rides. We enjoy being involved with school functions as well.

CC: I’ve been on a lot of rides that were escorted by police, and I’ve always been impressed by the efficiency and organization and the ability of the officers to maneuver at high speed when escorting slow-moving traffic.

Officer Buck: It’s part of the training. We all have to be on the same page or it could be deadly. It’s fun to have those opportunities. We recently provided escort service for the governor.

CC: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in becoming a motorcycle police officer?
Officer Buck: You just have to be motivated and confident and have some common sense. Then you have to get out there and look for opportunities. You have to be comfortable with the risk involved.

CC: Are there a lot of opportunities available?

Officer Buck: In our department there are not many. There’s not a lot of turnover. Many officers in the larger departments spend their whole career on motorcycles.

I am grateful to Officer Buck and the Gladstone Department of Public Safety for their cooperation. I also want to take this opportunity to salute all those who are willing to pin on badges and hit the streets to make life safer for all of us.

By Stripe