The sun was blaring Wednesday as several law enforcement officers, dressed more for winter than summer, weaved their motorcycles around small, orange cones set up in the North Charleston Coliseum parking lot.
The officers rode with ease, carefully moving through each obstacle course while still finding ways to push the limits and test their abilities. They had to be safe, but they were practicing for a competition after all.
“It’s a competition, but more importantly, it’s training,” said Charleston County sheriff’s Capt. Jim Woods. “Every course simulates some type of hazard, something a motor officer will encounter every day on the job.”
He pointed to one of the sets of orange cones and an officer getting ready to ride and gave a scenario of being stuck between several tightly parked vehicles.
“You will never see us pushing backwards,” he explained as the officer began moving forward. “We always park and move forward, and we will not put our feet down.”
Riding motorcycles poses an inherently dangerous risk for officers. Woods and Rob Grimsley, a retired Charleston County deputy who trained most of the local motor officers, said training is key. They meet once a month to keep their skills fresh.
“You have to be as sharp in the eighth hour as the eighth minute of your shift (on a motorcycle),” Grimsley said. “That’s what this training is all about.”
Grimsley spent 24 of his 25 years in law enforcement as a motor officer. He now works for Harley-Davidson.
“It’s therapy,” he said of riding a motorcycle. “It was just a way to do something I love doing while on the job.”
Woods said being a motor officer was a lifelong dream for him.
“I love motorcycles and I love being in law enforcement, so I have the best of both worlds,” he said.
There are seven certified motor officers at the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, though not all are full time, Woods said. North Charleston Police Department has eight motor officers, Charleston Police Department has three, and Summerville has two. There also are three Charleston County EMS employees who ride motorcycles on the job.
Sgt. Todd Morgan of the North Charleston Police Department said he has been riding motorcycles since he was a little kid.
“It was a natural fit,” he said of the job.
He added that one of his favorite aspects of being a motor officer is the gap it often bridges between him and the community.
“People will come up and talk to me,” he said. “It’s a talking piece and communication is key.”
He also said that the camaraderie among motor officers is like no other police group.
“It’s a brotherhood within a brotherhood,” he said. “I have to be able to trust these people next to me.”
Lt. David Singletary, also of the North Charleston Police Department, shared the same sentiment and said the team concept among motor officers is strong. He used last week’s 10th annual police motorcycle training seminar put on by the Sheriff’s Office as an example. Every officer who participates — they come in from all over the Southeast — helps each other, Singletary said.
“Everyone wants everyone to do better,” he said. “Even though it’s a competition, it’s spirited and we egg each other on.”
The competition also allows the motor officers to share their skills and safety knowledge with the community.
“This allows us to show the public how they can be safer, and we hope to inspire them to take a motorcycle safety course,” Singletary said.
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.