The original unit dates back to 1949 when Sheriff Bud Billings added motorcycles to the department that was experiencing growth in both manpower and technology in growing Johnson County. Back then, the county had a population of about 63,000 compared to its current estimated population of an estimated 534,000 residents.
At the time, Sheriff Billings purchased two baby-blue Harley-Davidson motorcycles to assist officers with accidents, traffic enforcement and special events, such as escorting and parades. These motorcycles were also used under Sheriffs Ralph Burger and Allenbrand.”
The original motorcycle unit was used mostly in northeast Johnson County since that was the population center of the then-mostly rural county. The population center now is close to the center of the county with about 47 percent of its land mass now classified as unincorporated.
The demise of the original unit was sparked by two main factors. One was the growth of cities, resulting in their incorporation as separate municipalities within the county with many of them setting up their own police departments in providing public safety to its citizens and patrolling of its roadways.
The other was the fact that the vast majority of rural roads in Johnson County in the 1950s and 1960s were unpaved and gravel, taking their toll on the motorcycles in keeping them operational.
Several “infamous deputies” in the past roster of the sheriff’s office once rode the motorcycles on special occasions or while working. They included Undersheriff Lee Tye and Sheriff Allenbrand, who served at the helm of the department for 34 years.
Sgt. Willard N. Carver also was among the Sheriff Office’s motorcyclists in the past. He was shot and killed on June 23, 1952, during a shootout with two men while investigating an attempted auto theft west of Shawnee near 63rd Street and Clare Road.
Both suspects, Charles Isgrigg and Merle William Martin, known as the “pillowcase” burglars because they carried their loot in pillowcases, were apprehended. Isgrigg was captured the day after Carver’s slaying; Martin was not arrested for two months after making the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Both men were tried and convicted in Johnson County District Court.
Martin, the man who fired the fatal shot, was hung to death from the gallows of Lansing State Penitentiary on July 16, 1954, in the 42nd execution in Kansas history. Isgrigg was sentenced to a long term in state prison for his role in the fatal shootout.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the original motorcycles were dispatched less often for sheriff’s patrols, and the machines ended up rusting away in the department garage.
The motorcycles were used on rare occasions between 1962 and 1967 when the baby-blue Harley-Davidsons were sold at public auction as surplus property to the county’s needs, ending their original era in Johnson County law enforcement.
The sheriff’s office started using motorcycles again in June 2004 after almost a 40 year hiatus. Sheriff Lynn “Currie” Myers’ initiated the Motorcycle/Traffic Unit to be established in 2004.
In order to achieve this initiative the sheriff’s office purchased two black 2004 Harley Davidson Road King Police Motorcycles. $40,000 from the drug forfeiture/seizure budget was used to purchase the two motorcycles and equipment needed to operate them.
Currently Sheriff Frank Denning is expanding the fleet of motorcycles with the addition of two additional units that will be put in service during 2010.