Sheriff deputy Chris Coderre likes the fact he gets paid to cruise around on a Harley.
"Most people ride for a hobby, and we get paid for it," said Coderre,
one of four motor officers whose uniform consists of motor boots, double stitched uniform pants and a helmet added to the regular deputy uniform. Coderre is in his third year of riding for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, a job that required him to learn how to ride something other than a dirt bike.
Deputy Dev Clark, who has been riding for years, joined the motor officers two months ago. "Being out in the open, you don't feel so confined as being in a car," said Clark, who along with Coderre is a deputy first class for the Traffic Safety Division of the motor, truck safety and accident reconstruction units.
Clark, Coderre, Greg Ahlemann and Kelly Clark, who is Clark's brother, work mostly during daytime hours, since nighttime driving can be more dangerous for motorcycle operators. The motor officers work 11.5 hour shifts, 15 days a month paired up on their shifts except when busier times require three or all four deputies to work together, such as on Friday nights.
"Our primary responsibility is traffic enforcement as opposed to calls for service," Coderre said. "If we can handle more of the traffic, it allows patrol to worry more about calls for service. It gives them the freedom to be more proactive in neighborhoods and businesses. They don't have to spend as much time doing what we do."
Clark agreed. "If they can concentrate more on the criminal unit, then they can be more effective," he said, adding, "We're certainly understaffed for the task at hand. As the county grows, traffic becomes more congested. We rely on patrol, and they rely on us."
THE MOTOR OFFICERS typically spend part of their shifts patrolling the county, focusing their coverage on the eastern end and on high-accident and high traffic volume areas. The officers use laser and radar for speed detection and look for traffic violations and aggressive driving, such as tailgating, speeding, lane changing and recklessness, especially during rush hours and the lunch hour and in school zones.
The motor officers typically issue more traffic tickets in the summer, Coderre said, adding that the number of tickets vary according to the time of year and the weather conditions. "People do slow down when the weather is bad," he said.
In addition, the motor officers respond to traffic-related complaints, provide escort and funeral details and serve as primary and secondary units on accident calls. As a secondary unit, they help with the accident investigation, conduct traffic control and gather the drivers' information. The officers also provide general patrol.
"It's important to maintain awareness around you at all times," Coderre said. The motorcycles are not as easily recognizable as deputy vehicles, since they are smaller and the emergency lights are dimmer than those on a cruiser. At the same time, motorcycles are easier to conceal and are more mobile than cruisers, though the job functions are the same.
"Initially, they think of us as a motorcycle until they get closer. We're not as visible as a marked cruiser," Coderre said.
CLARK SAID learning to ride for the sheriff's office was more intense than his previous riding experiences and that he had to unlearn some of his riding habits. Clark, who was required to take 80 hours and two weeks of motor officer training, had to learn how to make tight maneuvers, change directions quickly and use braking techniques, while becoming comfortable on a motorcycle and learning to drive safely.
"You have to have confidence in yourself and total control over the motorcycle. You're not on a casual ride," Clark said.
Clark, who lives in Clarke County, joined the sheriff's office after completing the basic academy in 1981, working as a road deputy and meeting his goals to work as a K-9 handler and for the SWAT team. His third goal was to work as a motor officer.
"I was hoping to get one of them. I was lucky enough to participate in all three," Clark said. He said law enforcement "was something I wanted to do all my life. ... I was always fascinated with cops even as a kid."
Coderre, who lives south of Leesburg, joined the sheriff's office after completing the academy in 1997. He worked in midnight patrol until he became a motor officer in 1999. "It was an opportunity to work out in a different aspect of patrol," he said, adding that the motorcycles are attention-getters and "the spit and polish of the sheriff's office."
"It's a unique job within law enforcement," he said.