ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rio Rancho Police motorcycle officers can ride circles around their counterparts from other agencies — literally.
RRPD motorcycle officers took top-three places in three contests at the 18th annual Southwest Regional Police Motorcycle Training Competition in Las Vegas, Nev., April 5.
The competition encompassed about 135 riders from 25 agencies in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Officers Rick Salgado, Gaspar Garcia and Ben Sanchez and Sgt. Jerremy Manzanares won first place in the team-ride competition.
It was the fourth year in a row RRPD’s team took top honors in that division. Albuquerque Police Department came in second, and officers from Oro Valley, Ariz., were third.
In addition, Salgado earned third place in the individual BMW motorcycle ride. Salgado and Garcia, also a motorcycle instructor, placed third in the pair ride.
“What we find is, by going through these training events, it strengthens officers’ skill levels,” said Lt. Ron Vigil, who attended as an alternate.
Rio Rancho’s motorcycle officers must qualify with riding skills quarterly, and Vigil said the competition is the culmination of their work.
Rio Rancho has nine motorcycle officers.
To select the contest team, they lay out patterns in the Intel Corp. parking lot, where motorcyclists from a number of agencies practice, and compete among themselves.
“From that we take the officers that are up to that level of riding performance and we register as a group,” Vigil said.
In the team ride competition, participants must go through four patterns, with the first person in being the last one out. The ride is timed.
“The trick is to do it as quickly as possible, but clean, without knocking over any cones,” Vigil said. “And we were the team that was able to do that.”
For the pair ride, two officers are attached to each end of a strap with Velcro and must go through patterns without breaking the strap. Vigil said it takes teamwork, good timing and, of course, speed.
“And a lot of trust,” Salgado added.
This year’s Rio Rancho competition group has varying levels of experience with police motorcycles, ranging from Sanchez’s eight months to Garcia’s 7 1/2 years. They all have more than 10 years experience in law enforcement in general.
“Motorcycles is a lifestyle. I just enjoy it,” Garcia said.
Sanchez and Vigil named the camaraderie as the aspect of motorcycle policing that attracted them.
“We’re a tight-knit group of guys that work together,” Sanchez said.
Salgado, who has seven years of police motorcycle experience, and Manzanares, with five years, both said they liked reconstructing and investigating crashes.
“The only way you can really put that skill to use is here with the motor unit,” Manzanares said.
When he joined the Traffic Unit, he was put on a motorcycle, he explained.
“And after that, you kind of fall in love with it,” Manzanares said. “It’s a whole different kind of policing.”
Motorcycles can go on sidewalks and dirt, where passenger cars can’t. Plus, officers are more in the public’s view on a motorcycle than in a car, so citizens approach them more often, and they frequently speak at schools, he said.
“From an enforcement perspective, we’re the flagship,” Vigil said.
Vigil said the motorcycle unit’s role is to support patrol officers and the department’s mission.
To become motorcycle police, candidates must be tenured officers and complete a selection process. Then they go through an 80-hour class and two weeks of field training.
They also have to finish a six-week, 240-hour class in crash reconstruction.
Later requalification involves riding through a set of obstacles backward and forward at low and high speeds, without knocking over any traffic cones.
Vigil said there’s no state standard for measuring proficiency of motorcycle officers, so the department sets its own benchmark for the safety of officers and the public.
Garcia said instructors use a score sheet to quantify level of performance. He’s been an instructor for six months, and Manzanares has been an instructor about four years.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Garcia said.