The History of the San Jose Police Department Motorcycle Unit (Traffic Enforcement Unit)
The history of the Traffic Enforcement Unit dates back to the turn of the century when automobiles were beginning to appear in San Jose. The population in San Jose was approximately 21,500 in 1903 and traffic related problems were becoming an issue with Chief James Kidder. Chief Kidder was quoted in the Mercury Herald as saying “he will enforce the traffic ordinances in all its features, hereafter drivers of vehicles who fail to comply with the city ordinance, which requires that all corners be turned “on the square” will not be allowed to advance ignorance of the law as an excuse, but will be arrested and taken to police headquarters…he requests all motorists not to bring their “machines” to a stop in front of hitching posts as it prevents owners from tying their horses and runaways will result.”
In 1911, the San Jose Police Department purchased its first police department automobile (a red car for apprehensions). At this time, horse drawn carriages were still common throughout the city, but records show that even then, traffic violations were being enforced. For instance, in 1910, a man was arrested for driving his carriage on the wrong side of the street drunk.
On February 1, 1912 a $60,000 bond was passed for the motorization of the police force. On February 14, 1912 the police department acquired its first motorcycle. It was painted yellow and used for traffic enforcement. The first motorcycle patrolman was named “motorbike” Margasan. A quote taken from the San Jose Mercury Herald in 1911 stated that Margasan “swore to a complaint before Judge Dougherty that he had seen the doctor hitting a clip of at least twenty-five miles per hour down West San Carlos Street.” At that time, there were approximately 16 sworn and non-sworn employees. By 1915, the Board of Supervisors had approved the use of two motorcycles to be used by the police to deal with traffic problems. Police records from 1916, documented 198 reported accidents that year.
In 1917, a patrolman was paid $100, Captains $115, motorcycle officer 125, and the Chief of Police $135. The extra money made by the motorcycle officers was for maintenance of the motorcycle. The salaries were paid monthly. Whether you were on horse, automobile, or motorcycle, the city still depended on the officer to provide his own transportation. During the period from the 1920’s to the 1930’s, San Jose started to transform from a small rural community to a medium sized city. The population had grown from 39,642 in 1920 to 57,651 in 1930. the police department recognized that traffic enforcement was going to be an important police function. At that time the traffic unit consisted of motorcycles only and was staffed with seven motorcycle officers. The motorcycles were a mix of Hendersons, Indians, and Harley-Davidsons. The officers were referred to as “Traffic Officers” and could be recognized wearing their khaki colored uniforms and different style cap piece (San Jose Police Motor Officers wore the same style and type uniform worn by the state traffic officers, now known as the CHP). At one point, they even wore white shirts as part of the uniform while the rest of the department wore blue uniforms. There was no type of safety equipment worn during this period of time as evidenced by the fact that helmets were not worn. Likewise, extra money made by the motorcycle officers was for maintenance of the motorcycle. The salaries were paid monthly. Whether you were on horse, automobile, or motorcycle, the city still depended on the officer to provide his own transportation. During the period from the 1920’s to the 1930’s, San Jose started to transform from a small rural community to a medium sized city. The population had grown from 39,642 in 1920 to 57,651 in 1930. the police department recognized that traffic enforcement was going to be an important police function. At that time the traffic unit consisted of motorcycles only and was staffed with seven motorcycle officers. The motorcycles were a mix of Hendersons, Indians, and Harley-Davidsons. The officers were referred to as “Traffic Officers” and could be recognized wearing their khaki colored uniforms and different style cap piece (San Jose Police Motor Officers wore the same style and type uniform worn by the state traffic officers, now known as the CHP). At one point, they even wore white shirts as part of the uniform while the rest of the department wore blue uniforms. There was no type of safety equipment worn during this period of time as evidenced by the fact that helmets were not worn. Likewise, motorcycle training was non-existent.
San Jose’s population grew rapidly for the next 30 years. The traffic unit also continued to grow and evolve both in numbers and technology. During the 1940’s, twenty-one officers were assigned to traffic enforcement and accident investigation. The work shifts covered seven days a week of enforcement and some motorcycle officers worked as late as 3:00 am. 1941 marked the year that the City began to purchase motorcycles for the traffic officers. The city purchased motorcycles from officers who had been drafted for the war effort. Prior to that time, the officers purchased their own motorcycles at a cost of approximately $528. The first motorcycles were equipped with two-way radios in May of 1943. Records from that era reflect an emphasis the department placed on traffic enforcement. In 1941, the twenty-one traffic officers issued 17,000 citations. The cost of a speeding ticket then was five dollars.
Chief J.R. Blackmore (1947-1971) continued to emphasize traffic enforcement and to increase the traffic unit as the city grew. By 1953, the population had reached 108,000. Traffic volume had also increased, accompanied by more accidents and errant drivers. During this time period, 2600 traffic accidents were recorded and traffic officers wrote 34,123 citations. During the 1950’s Lieutenant Elmer Klein became the first motorcycle riding Lieutenant assigned to the Traffic Enforcement Unit. He was responsible for the introduction of the first hard helmet worn by the motorcycle officers and was also responsible for the transition from khaki colored uniforms worn by the traffic officers, to the blue uniforms worn by the rest of the department. Lieutenant Elmer Klein (later retired as a deputy chief in 1973) was also the president of the widows and orphans organization (prior to the union and PBA).
In 1956 the police department purchased its first radar unit for use in enforcement on speeding vehicles. It was called the “Electromatic Traffic Actuated Radar Vehicle Detector” and cost $1400. It was huge by todays standards and had to be mounted to the rear of a stationwagon. The police department also purchased twenty “Speed checked by radar” signs at $800 each. The first year of its use, the traffic officers wrote 1061 speeding tickets. In 2001, the department owns approximately 105 hand held radar units ranging in cost from $1500-$3000 each. In 2013, motor officer now use the more accurate and cost effective “Lidar” units that use a laser to measure speeds. These units cost approximately $1000-$3000 each.
Today San Jose is known as the Capitol of Silicon Valley. The population has grown to just over one million residents and the city covers an area of 177 square miles. It is the third largest city in California and the eleventh largest in the nation. Traffic congestion, accidents, and enforcement have consistently been the major issues affecting the city today.
Service demands for the Traffic Enforcement Unit (now known as “TEU”) have also increased along with the overall population growth and the increased number of drivers in the city. To keep pace with these demands, TEU has sought ways to efficiently and effectively manage the traffic problem. Control of vehicular and pedestrian traffic is emphasized and is accomplished through routine patrol, use of Lidar equipment and other specialized enforcement methods. High collision locations and causative factors are identified and targeted for selective enforcement. These objectives are met through enforcement, education, and engineering referrals.
The San Jose Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit is comprised of one Lieutenant, 4 Sergeants, and 25 motorcycle officers (In 2001, TIU consisted of a Lieutenant, seven Sergeants, and thirty-five motorcycle officers. In addition, there were five officers who drove marked police vehicles with no lightbar and conducted radar stops for speeding. Two officers were assigned to marked pick-up trucks to conduct commercial vehicle enforcement. Finally, one sergeant and seven motor officers worked the heavy cruise that occurred downtown and were known as the Cruise Management Detail, or CMD).
Traffic enforcement officers are assigned to either a day or swing shift assignment. The officers are rotated throughout the city’s three divisions and sixteen policing districts.
All motorcycle officers who join the unit are selected after written and oral examinations. The officers then must pass a rigorous, mandatory three-week motorcycle academy prior to becoming a solo motorcycle officer. After completion of the motorcycle academy, quarterly motorcycle training is required for all motorcycle officers to ensure their skills are proficient for safe motorcycle riding. The type of motorcycle currently being used TIU is the Yamaha Police bike. Officers who drive cars or trucks assigned to TIU go through the same testing but do not go to the motors academy.
The Commercial Enforcement Unit’s duty was to investigate and enforce California and Federal vehicle codes and regulations involving commercial trucks and tractor-trailers. They were also specifically trained to investigate commercial vehicle accidents and hazardous material spills.
The Cruise Management Detail was also part of TIU and had seven marked “slick top” police cars and one Sergeant. Their main responsibility was to manage the heavy traffic associated with “cruising” during the weekend hours in downtown San Jose. In addition to cruise management, the unit participated in routine traffic enforcement and routine accident investigation, as well as crowd control and special events.
TIU used to respond to approximately 4700 collisions a year, out of the 15,000 that occur. On average, the unit issues 37,000 moving violation citations a year. It investigates approximately 1,300 complaints from citizens who call about traffic violators on their streets.
Training is on-going and keeps the officers up to date on the latest laws and regulations regarding motor vehicle safety. The officers attend several classes yearly ranging from accident investigation to court testimony to procedures involving traffic enforcement.
Technology has helped tremendously in the area of speed enforcement and red light violations. All officers in the unit are equipped with RADAR or Lidar units for use in speed enforcement. The new Lidar units use the technology of a single laser beam to accurately measure the speed of an individual vehicle distinguished from a group of slower moving vehicles. Red light violations have also been a growing problem due to increased traffic congestion. Special indicator lights have been installed at certain traffic signal locations to assist the officers in monitoring red light runners. This technology has helped the officers enforce this violation more efficiently and safely. Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) devises are also available to the officers for in-field alcohol breath testing. The devices are portable and small, and have had great success in the investigation of drivers under the influence of alcohol. The devises will actually give the officer an approximate reading of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the scene.
In addition to traffic enforcement, TIU performs several other tasks to ensure vehicle and pedestrian safety. One such task is Dignitary Escorts and pedestrian safety. In cooperation with State and Federal agencies, TIU will provide escorts and motorcades to visiting foreign and domestic Dignitaries. Another task involves handling critical incidents, such as large fires, major crimes in progress, natural and man made disasters, and hazardous material spills. These situations often require the use of TIU officers for traffic control and the re-routing of the vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Another collateral function of TIU would be the management of crowds and vehicles at festivals and downtown events. The San Jose Police Department’s motorcycle drill team performs at many of these functions and motor units routinely represent the department at ceremonies and special events through the bay area.
Traffic education is also very important to ensure safe vehicle operation, prevent collisions, and reduce vehicular incidents with DUI drivers. This is achieved through a combination of school presentations, press releases, media interviews and participation in traffic education campaigns such as “Operation Outreach” and “Operation Safe Passage”. Two major programs directed towards High School kids are the “Every 15 Minutes” and “Sober Graduation” programs. Police Officers, District Attorneys, Sheriff’s Deputies, CHP Officers, and Judges participate in this program. Seminars, re-enactments, and tours of the police and jail facilities are provided to show the consequences from DUI related injury/fatal collisions and arrests.
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a major traffic concern. DUI drivers are responsible for many accidents each year resulting in property damage, injuries, and death. Through enforcement and public awareness, drivers under the influence of alcohol/drugs can be taken off the street and many tragedies avoided. A major campaign TIU participates in is the “Avoid the 13”. This is held during the last two weeks of the year and is sponsored by the California Office of Traffic Safety and the Santa Clara County Police Chief’s Association. It is a collective effort of all the 13 police agencies in the county to arrest suspected drunk drivers through heavy enforcement and DUI checkpoints. This same campaign is also conducted in the other surrounding Counties in the Bay Area. We are proud to say that San Jose Police Department has consistently made the highest number of DUI related arrests each year. In the 2000-2001 “Avoid the 13” campaign, the SJPD made 300 DUI arrests over the two week holiday time period. In addition to the enforcement component, media releases, advertisements such as signs and posters, and public appearances have contributed greatly in the prevention of DUI drivers and collisions.
As of September of 2015, the San Jose Police Motors unit was disbanded, after serving the citizens of San Jose for over 112 years.
Information and Photos provided by the San Jose, CA Police Department Public Information Officer.