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BALLISTIC TESTING FOR THE MOTORCYCLE OFFICER


The appropriate use and knowledge of cover and concealment (C & C) during a potential deadly force encounter could be vital to the survival of any law enforcement officer.  Officers should learn various ways to shoot and move from C & C and identify what should be used for protection.  Most officers know that a patrol vehicle will provide cover at the engine block and wheels but other than those two locations and the type of weapon being used by the bad guy the vehicle is simply concealment.

In 1997 I wanted to learn more about the ballistic capability of the police motorcycle and then possibly provide my results for continuous education to motorcycle officers.  Using various caliber weapons and ammunition I began testing which included photos and video for documentation. 
 
 
I began with testing the motorcycle helmet and quickly we learned that there is absolutely no protection therefore if time allows get rid of the helmet in a violent encounter.  It will serve no purpose and we have learned in scenario based training it enhances your position and provides a target for the adversary. 
 
 
I then conducted testing on the fuel tank from a Harley-Davidson (HD) police motorcycle and the rounds traveled through and through with no protection.  The tank held approximately 2 gallons of fuel and during this testing there was no combustion. 
 
 
 Next I recovered a saddle bag from a HD police motorcycle and placed relevant items inside the bag to identify what a police motorcycle officer (PMO) would carry on a tour of duty.  Small caliber rounds were stopped from exiting however many rounds traveled through and exited the other side of the tank. 
 
 
Obviously this testing left me with a concern and I attempted to locate a complete police motorcycle to conduct further testing.  Harry Walters the lead motorcycle instructor for the Institute of Police Technology and Management received approval and a 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000 police motorcycle was donated to complete my testing.       
 
 
Working with academy staff and a few motor officers at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in Jacksonville, Florida we fired over 80 rounds from a .380 ball to a .223 armor piercing round and nothing penetrated the motorcycle.  We left all fluids in the machine to include fuel and there was no combustion during our testing.   
 
 
The entire block of testing was captured on video identifying the type of each round, and the location of the round.  We also placed targets behind the motorcycle to simulate a PMO to identify any potential strikes. 
 
 
In order to follow my training program I placed the motorcycle in three different positions:
1)           Immediate threat with the officer still mounted
2)           Unknown risk vehicle stop
3)    Motor down

 

 

For many years the knowledge learned from this training was successful however with Harley-Davidson having the vast majority of the police motorcycle market share in the US the testing on the KZ was no longer relevant.  Therefore I needed a HD motorcycle to re-create the same style of testing.

Steve St. Thomas the director of Police & Fleet sales for the Harley-Davidson Motor Company understood the value of this testing and the potential knowledge and safety that it could provide to law enforcement officers nationwide.  Mr. St. Thomas then donated a 2009 Electra-Glide for testing.

In October of 2011 at the Florida Public Safety Institute (FPSI) in Havana, Florida Motor Officer Mike Rodes from Florida State University PD, Captain Al Wofford from the Florida Highway Patrol and I began testing.  Staff members from FPSI, Tallahassee PD and Florida State University PD observed and participated in this testing.  To ensure we accurately documented all shots Jimmy Garbarino from the Florida State University/Seminole Productions donated his time and captured this event on video using two different cameras and Stephanie White from FPSI took photographs

The motorcycle was placed in the same three positions that I use in my tactics course and that I used in 1997 with the KZ 1000.  A total of 56 rounds were fired ranging from a 115 grain .9mm to an AK-47 using ball ammo and only six rounds penetrated to the officer.  However if the officer was using C & C in the recommended way no rounds would have struck the officer. 

 

2009 HARLEY-DAVIDSON FLHT
FLORIDA PUBLIC SAFETY INSTITUTE 10.19.11

 

 

AMMO TYPE LAWMAN REM LAWMAN HORNADY REM REM REM REM AK
AMMO GRAIN 115 GR 9MM 180 GR 40  230 GR 45 55 GR TAP 12 GA SLUG 270 30-06 308 BALL
                 
MOTOR POSITION                  
IMMEDIATE THREAT 1- WINDSHIELD 1- WINDSHIELD 1- HEADLIGHT 1- HEADLIGHT FRT FENDER FAIRING BELOW LIGHT BELOW LIGHT 1-BELOW H.L.
  2- FAIRING 2- FAIRING 2- HEADLIGHT 2- HEADLIGHT         2-BELOW H.L.
  3- WINDSHIELD 3- WINDSHIELD 3- HEADLIGHT 3- RHT BAG          
                   
                   
VEHICLE STOP 1- TANK 1- TANK 1- ENGINE 1- ENGINE ENGINE ENGINE BATTERY BATTERY 1- BATTERY
  2- TANK 2- ENGINE 2- ENGINE 2- ENGINE         2- RHT BAG
  3- TANK 3- ENGINE 3- BATTERY 3- BATTERY          
                   
                   
MOTOR DOWN 1- RHT BAG 1- RHT BAG 1- BATTERY 1- RHT BAG AIR FILTER RHT BAG 1- OIL PAN 1- FRT WHEEL 1- RHT BAG
  2- REAR WHEEL 2- REAR WHEEL 2- BATTERY 2- BATTERY     2- OIL PAN 2- FRT WHEEL 2- R WHEEL
  3- REAR WHEEL 3- REAR WHEEL 3- BATTERY 3- ENGINE          
                   
A TOTAL OF 56 ROUNDS WERE FIRED AND ONLY SIX ROUNDS (RED) PENETRATED TO THE OFFICER.
THERE WAS APPROX. A 1/4 TANK OF FUEL AND AFTER SEVERAL SHOTS TO THE TANK THERE WAS A SPARK FROM A ROUND STRIKING  
THE ENGINE WHICH CAUSED A FIRE.                

 

 

After numerous rounds were fired and fuel was exiting the right side of the tank a spark from one of the rifle rounds fired into the engine block ignited the fuel.  Due to the results of all three tests I'm unable to verify that if you are involved in this deadly force encounter that the fuel will ignite or remain as a liquid.  This was a solid learning tool knowing that anything is possible and in our profession we must be prepared!

Knowing that rounds have the potential to skip and strike a potential target we did not test fire but wanted to ensure we brought this to your attention.   If I had a choice of C & C that consisted of a concrete barrier, engine block of a vehicle or a motorcycle I would select my location in that order.  This information is for the PMO who has no other C & C option and the only item available is the motorcycle.  The staff at FPSI understood the value and after we completed the training placed this motorcycle onto their C & C course along with other realistic items to provide relevant training to law enforcement officers.

For fifteen years I have instructed a two day tactical course for PMO's which includes live fire while using the motorcycle for cover and force on force scenarios using Simunitions FX marking cartridges.

Instructors you owe this type of training to your officers simply riding cone patterns every training day could be setting your officer's up to fail.

 

Be Safe

 

BIO:

Jim Polan is a 31 year veteran of law enforcement and retired as a captain from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and then retired as a major with the Seminole Tribe of Florida Police Department.