Portsmouth, VA Police Department

The History of the Portsmouth Police Department Motorcycle Unit

The Portsmouth Police Department has been utilizing the police motorcycle since 1918. The motorcycle is a key asset in any agency for its ability to create traffic safety to reduce crashes through increased enforcement. It is also used in parades, funerals, escorts, and presentations to schools. Its maneuverability allows it to function just about anywhere. In this passage is a brief history of the Portsmouth Police motorcycle unit.

              In August of 1914, the police department began requesting the use of police motorcycles to be approved by city council. It wasn’t until 1918 that the department got their first Harley Davidson motorcycle. By 1923 the department had five motorcycles in its fleet and the cost of upkeep was excessive. However, through enforcement the officers were able to pay for new motors. In 1941 the city added an additional two more for a total of seven motors. Soon afterwards the Portsmouth Police Traffic Unit would be formed.

              In the 50’s and 60’s the Traffic Unit was the place that everyone wanted to be. The unit had grown to around 20 officers and traffic enforcement was a top priority. Sometime in the mid 60’s the department had a total of 12 motors and three Harley Davidson 3 wheelers. These motors were taken home and keep at the officers’ homes, and in inclement weather they were able to use pool cars for their patrolling that day. This continued on through the mid 70’s.

 In 1979, the police department was restructured and the Traffic Unit was disbanded. The motors were downsized to four motorcycles and three 3 wheelers. These motors were placed into patrol and used only for special events, funerals, parades, and escorts. Traffic enforcement had ceased. This practice continued through the 80’s and the city used a 1967 FLH with a tank shifter, 1968 FLH, and two 1970 models. The 1967 was later retired to the Children’s Museum and placed on exhibit.

 In 1990, the Tactical Response Unit was formed. As a collateral duty, the unit handled all of the specialty equipment such as boats, wave runners, and the remaining four motorcycles. The motors were once again introduced back as traffic enforcement vehicles. The city in 1992, bought four new Harley Davidson motors, and in 1996 the Traffic Unit was again reborn and removed from TRU to specifically focus on nothing but traffic related issues. From then until now the unit is still in existence, however, it is named the Strategic Traffic Unit. The unit continued to function with only four motorcycles until 2005, when the city bought four Harley Davidson’s from that year.

            Currently in 2010, the police department has a total of eight motors with one sergeant, and five officers assigned to it. The unit is believed to still be the place to work, however in order to ride a motor you must be able to successfully complete an 80-hour operators school. Safety is paramount, and though training is how we achieve that. The unit continues to train monthly and invites other surrounding agencies to join us. 

1968 in front of Portsmouth Cycle. They completed all of the repairs needed on the motors.
Team award that was presented to the unit for an “Outstanding Job Performance” in reference to the dedication and hard work that was done to host the Chesapeake Bay Police Motorcycle Rodeo
1967 Portsmouth Police Motorcycle displayed in the Children’s Museum located in Portsmouth
Annual Chesapeake Bay Police Motorcycle Rodeo Competition that we host. To date we have raised over $45,000 for the March of Dimes for “Saving Premature Babies”

Information and Photos provided by the Portsmouth, VA Police Department