Chicago, home of one of the nation’s earliest police motorcycle units.
In 1910 Chicago introduced both police motorcycles and police boats. This was only two years after the introduction of Chicago’s first patrol cars; four years after the introduction of police horses, and a year before NYPD introduced motorcycles.
Chicago Police established a Traffic Division in 1882. Initially this comprised 65 foot officers stationed at railroad crossings, tunnels and other high-risk areas. The small motorcycle unit added in 1910 swelled to 100 solo motorcycles, plus 225 three-wheeled motorcycles by 1956. By the 1930s, the unit included a “Motorcycle Thrill Team” for public displays. Like most police units of this date, Chicago Police’s first motorcycles were Indians and Hendersons, with the city switching to Harley Davidson after Indian’s closure in 1953.
Until around 1960, Chicago’s police motorcyclists wore the regular patrolman’s peaked hat and cloth jacket, teamed with jodhpurs. The only concessions to motorcycle safety were leather gauntlets and gaiters worn above the lace-up shoes. Even the stunt team wore no helmets.
Police motorcycles have better maneuverability and a lower profile than squad cars.
The importance of the motorcycle unit grew with Chicago’s increasing motorization and congestion. Appointed in 1960, Superintendent Orlando Wilson greatly increased the use of motorized patrols. Reasons for the unit’s continued importance include superior gas mileage and maneuverability. Motorcycles reach scenes inaccessible to patrol cars and can keep a lower profile.