Multnomah County, OR Sheriff’s Office

The History of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Motorcycle Unit

The police motorcycle has deep roots in the history of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. In 1916, the Columbia River Scenic Highway was completed, linking the Oregon Coast to the Columbia River Gorge. According to historical documents, the purpose of this highway was to provide a scenic highway for patrons to access the natural beauty of the Columbia Gorge. Much to everyone’s surprise, the road quickly became a very busy highway.In 1917, to address the traffic on the curvy, windy somewhat unforgiving highway, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office instituted their first Uniform Patrol. This unit was tasked with patrolling the gorge mainly to help people whose vehicles broke down or those who were in wrecks. Their first patrol vehicle was a Harley Davidson motorcycle. The police motorcycle allowed deputies to quickly access and get help to disabled motorists on the somewhat remote highway. The “Oregon Motor Vehicles Law” was passed in 1921. This law placed restrictions on the operators of motor vehicles. Enforcement of this law was the responsibility of the Sheriff and his deputies. They found that police motorcycles were also superior enforcement vehicles for catching speeders. The Sheriff was pleased with the results of this new unit and the MCSO (Motorcycle) Uniform Patrol began to expand. Laws passed in 1930 and 1937, again expanding the functions of the Sheriff’s motorcycle unit. Those laws required motorists and deputies to fill out accident reports and the Sheriff became responsible for filing copies of those reports with the Secretary of State.

 Deputy Sheriff Frank Walter Twombley

 On Tuesday, November 19, 1918 Deputy Sheriff Frank Walter Twombley was riding his police motorcycle, attempting to catch and pull over a speeding motorist. As he got alongside the car he was probably able to observe a young couple in the front seat; a young man driving with a young woman passenger. As Deputy Twombley pulled next to the speeding driver’s window, the driver produced a pistol and shot the deputy off his bike. Deputy Twombley died instantly at the corner of Union and Portland Blvd. Unknown to Deputy Twombley, his killer had just robbed the toll plaza at the Southern end of the Interstate Bridge. The killer, John Cyril Laird, was eventually arrested and convicted of 2nd Degree Murder and sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, Laird stated his true name was John Knight Giles. According to documents, Giles escaped from the Salem, Oregon prison and was free until 1935 when he was arrested along with six others for attempting to rob the Denver and Rio Grande Mail Train as it pulled out of Salt Lake City. Giles was sentenced and sent to McNeil Island and was quickly transferred to Alcatraz Prison due to the length of his sentence and his escape record. Giles is considered by some to be one of the only inmates to ever escape from Alcatraz as, in 1945, while working a laundry detail, he donned the uniform of a US Army soldier and jumped aboard a departing boat. He was questioned and arrested as he stepped off the boat at Ft McDowell.

Our thoughts and prayers will always be with the Twombley family.

MCSO Deputy Rexford, the Creator of the Yellow Line! 

In 1917, after patrolling the Columbia River Scenic Highway and witnessing the wrecks and near misses of a well-traveled two-lane highway, Deputy Peter Rexford came upon the idea of painting white stripes in the center of roads as a guide for motorists. The curves on the Columbia River Highway east of Crown Point were the very first to be painted. Chief Deputy Martin T. Pratt (later to become Sheriff) paid for the paint with his own money! By 1926, both counties and states regularly used the white lines on major roads.
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Motorcycle Drill Team

In the 1936, the Rose City Motorcycle Club started the Rose City Motorcycle Club stunt team. About a year later the team fell under the supervision of the Multnomah County Sheriff and became the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Reserve Motorcycle Stunt or Drill Team. This team of Daredevil riders included regular deputy sheriffs as well as some pretty famous local riders like Joe Neys, Emil Kerofsky, Robert (Suicide) Dillon and others. Many of these local, professional riders were eventually deputized and some even became regular deputy sheriffs. The Sheriff’s Motorcycle Team put on shows not only locally but in other places like Reno, Mexico, Texas and Canada to name a few. They were quite famous at the time and in high demand at major events.

Sometime in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s the Sheriff’s Motorcycle Drill Team disbanded, but the use of motorcycles by the Sheriff’s Office continues to this day.

MCSO Motors Unit Today 

Currently the Sheriff’s Motor Unit consists of a sergeant and two deputies. 

Our Motors:

The police motorcycles used by our office has varied over the years.  The original 1917 MCSO fleet of one Harley Davidson motorcycle grew to between 20 and 30 bikes at different times in the last 90-some years. At times, some of our bikes have been equipped with sidecars to extend the riding season and even to allow two-up riding.   In 1971, after a period of downsizing in the 1960’s, the Sheriff’s Office purchased four 1967 Harley Davidson FLH Police Special Electra Glide 1200’s.  These bikes were used extensively in the 1970’s before the Sheriff’s Office, in the early 1980’s began purchasing the Kawasaki KZ1000P series bikes.  The Kawasaki KZ1000P Police Motorcycle, made famous by the popular late 1970’s television show CHiP’s, and was a fleet bike in the MCSO Motors Unit for many years.  

Today our fleet used for regular duty by our Motor Officers consists of two 2015 BMW R1200RT-P Police Motorcycles and one 2009 Honda ST-1300P.   The Sheriff’s Office has retained two 1967 Harley Davidson FLH Police Special Electra Glide 1200’s for display purposes, and can be viewed in the lobby of the Sheriff’s Office. 

Our Training:
While our motor officers hold the same licenses and endorsements that non-police riders do, our riders are also required to attend and successfully complete Police Motor Officer School. The school is an 80 hour class covering decision making, slow speed maneuvers, counter-steering, emergency deceleration and braking, high-speed lane changes, collision avoidance, traffic stops and parade and funeral escort.

Additionally, our operators spend at least 120 hours per year re-training and honing their skills during monthly in-service training. Our riders train year-round to gain the skills and confidence necessary to work in all kinds of weather during all conditions. To see what we (as well as other motor officers) do during training, just tune into You Tube or similar web sites and search for “police motorcycle training”.

What We Do:
Many police agencies use their Motors strictly as Traffic patrol units. We are a bit more diversified at our agency. While our motors are definitely used on traffic enforcement details such as school and work zones or other high-risk areas, we also use ours for routine patrol, traffic control during parades, funerals and similar events and even to sometimes serve civil papers with. One of our biggest goals is to promote road safety and education. If you have an event that you would like to see our motor officers at, please call or email the Motors Unit Supervisor listed above to discuss it further.

Deputy Sheriff Frank Walter Twombley
2013 Officers Lee and Laizure
Officer Lee
2013 Motor Unit Photo

Information and Photos provided by the Multnomah County, OR Sheriff’s Office.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank Retired Deputy Ard Pratt Jr., Retired Deputy Fred Hill and Dave Neys’ (son of retired deputy Joe Neys) family for their generous donation of time, photographs and information leading to the creation of this webpage.