Long before Officers Baker and Poncherello raced around southern California on the hit TV show of the 70s, Motorcycle cops were the subject of comic strips, jokes, and blockbuster movies. When you think of motorcycles officers (or motors as they are often referred to), you may picture a deputy hiding in the woods, waiting for an unaware motorist to come racing by in hopes of ruining the driver’s day and issuing a ticket for an obscene amount of money. However, the Clay County deputies who are riding these motorcycles for traffic control are anything but the typical comedy punch line.
On this day, we spent time with Deputies Baumgartner and Borchardt as they met in the Middleburg substation prior to hitting the road. Fresh off a successful round at the Space Coast Police Motorcycle Skills Event where six Clay County Sheriff Office deputies competed alongside nearly 70 other officers from across the country, Baumgartner and Borchardt open up about some of the benefits and challenges of being a motorcycle cop. Certainly, these types of competitions rank at the top of one of the highlights of being a motorcycle deputy. What a civilian might perceive to be dozens of randomly laid out cones is actually an intricate course meant to challenge the experience and skills of even the most qualified rider. Although the course layout is posted 30 days in advance of an event, these deputies are training continually to sharpen their skills and improve their ability to navigate even the most treacherous situation. Typically, CCSO motor deputies train one day each month and complete a full re-certification every six months. Their training includes bike management skills and addressing the unexpected event—including how to right a fallen bike (which can weigh close to 1000 pounds fully equipped) without assistance. Because of the intensity of the competition courses, these events also count towards training hours.
Beyond conducting regular traffic control, motors are often used for funeral escorts, dignitary escorts, and special event protection. Because of their versatility, these powerful vehicles can even navigate through sandy and wooded paths that would be unreachable for standard law enforcement vehicles. The unique opportunities presented to this elite group of riders certainly keep things interesting and enjoyable for the deputies. Deputy Baumgartner smiled as he stated, “What I love to do, I actually get paid for,” and Deputy Borchardt agreed as he spoke of the freedom of riding with the wind in his face. When pressed about the challenges of being on the motors, both deputies agreed that the heat of summer can make the job a little difficult. “It can be tough to cool off with all of the gear that we are wearing, but we work through it,” shared Baumgartner. More concerning than the heat, though, is the constant threat of traffic congestion and distracted drivers. “We have to constantly be watching for those who may not be watching for us,” the deputies stated. The conversation turns briefly to the tragic accident in 2018 that resulted in the death of motorcycle Deputy Ben Zirbel—a heartbreaking event that is always in the thoughts of those who ride.
When not running radar from a stationary position, the CCSO motors are watching for infractions, assisting drivers, working school zones, and addressing complaints of excessive speed within the numerous neighborhoods of Clay County. Because the motors don’t operate within specific zones, they are free to roam throughout the entire county and can respond quickly when needed. They are also tasked to address tips from the SaferWatch App that more and more of Clay County residents are utilizing. As we talked about the type of infractions that the deputies are looking for, we asked Deputy Borchardt for the one infraction that results in a guaranteed ticket. “Seatbelt infractions. Definitely seatbelts.” “Also when a child is not properly belted within the vehicle,” added Baumgartner.
After our conversation, we followed the Deputies to a commercial driveway just off of a busy section of Blanding Boulevard where the motors staged while conducting speed detection with their portable laser devices. It couldn’t help but be noticed that these deputies were certainly not hiding in a tree line hoping to surprise drivers, but were, instead, sitting just off the right-of-way of a major artery through the county. Not only were the deputies completely visible, but they were positioned close enough to the road that drivers should be paying attention to them—just as a driver should be paying attention if a child were this close to the road. Instead, we watched as some drivers chose to race by, seemingly unaware of the presence of law enforcement. Deputies Borchardt and Baumgartner raced from their parking spot as they each chased down the speeding drivers. Upon their return, we spoke about the ultimate goals and mindset behind these traffic stops. Deputy Baumgartner stated, “Look, we know that patience is sometimes thin out there. Everyone has somewhere to be, and everyone gets frustrated at times. We always try to use a traffic stop as a teaching moment, and we try to give some leeway when we can, but…” Deputy Baumgartner’s voice trails off as a vehicle races by well above the posted speed limit.
He activates his lights and siren as he pulls onto the roadway to pursue the driver. Another vehicle, with a driver seemingly oblivious to the well-lit motor, nearly clips the deputy as he accelerates. In that one moment, the training, skills, and experience we just discussed came into full view as Baumgartner navigates the dangerous moment, pulls the speeding driver over, and lives to ride another day. As our time with the deputies came to an end, the words of Deputy Borchardt are ever present, “We just want people to make it safely to where they are going, and we want to make it safely home at the end of the day.”