The History of San Francisco Police Motorcycle Unit
Our SFPD Traditions Endure the Test of Time
by Paul Chignell
There are specific reasons that the San Francisco Police Department officers are set apart from other agencies. Our uniforms, equipment, and approaches to performing police work in an urban setting are often distinct from even police officers in adjoining jurisdictions. Frequently, we take great pride in the differences with other agencies. It is not that we are better or worse then other agencies, but that we are different, and that the differences are time honored and repected within our ranks, whether a new officer or a grizzled veteran.
Some of the day to day differences in our appearance as officers may seem minor and unimportant, but the changes, that other police departments and sheriff offices have evoloved have rarely touched the SFPD.
San Fancisco Police Department officers wear blue uniforms with patches on both shoulders. We have never worn khaki or green uniforms. The uniformed officers is in symmetry, with black or dark T-shirts under the uniform shirt, not white.
Unlike suburban officers, we shy away from baseball caps, but prefer service caps with brass emblems. When superior officers see the caps creeping in, they banish them, and rightfully so.
Police officers in San Francisco do not wear beards and goatees in uniform. They and their superiors believe that a police officer or deputy sheriff looks absolutely incongruent with beards and facial hair. They are correct.
When San Francisco officers pin on their seven pointed star on the ledt side of their chest, it is for a distinct reason. They have been doing it since 1886. It is on the left side to protect the vulnerable part of the officer, his or her heart. And not the scourge of the police parlance, a badge. The seven points represent the Book of Revelation and stand for virtue, divinity, prudence, fortitude, honor, glory, and praising God. Police officers are expected to exemlify those characteristics. In 1886 the jeweler Irvine Jachens designed the star and it remains to this day.
It is not and never will be a badge.
San Francisco cops do not operate in cruisers or patrol cars or prowlers, and particularly not in green and white hues. They only patrol in radio cars that are black and white in color -- and they have been since the 1940's.
Our officers work mainly in pairs, with the windows rolled down so we can hear and smell the sounds and fumes of distress. If you see an officer with windows rolled up he or she is probably not a working cop. For sure.
Our motorcycle officers are experts at riding, particularly escorting all types of dignitaries including the President of the United States and all visiting heads of state. The officers are called Solos, not memebers of the ""motors."
The reason our officers are called Solos dates way back to the 1920s. At the time, SFPD deployed its first motorcycles as rapid response teams, composed of a sidecar motorcycle, a driver, and a gunner. The gunner carried either a Thompson sub-machine gun, or a shotgun. The units were used to chase bootleggers over the county line and to respond to bank robberies, etc, in the new era of motorized getaway cars. That unit soon morphed into use in traffic enforcement, for which they were better suited, and because the prevalence of cars and truck on city streets was increasing exponentially. Soon, the sidecars were removed from the motorcycles and the officers went "solo" on traffic patrol. The name stuck.
Photo by Peter Thoshinsky
Photo by Peter Thoshinsky