Vol. 79, No. 1Cover stories

Mn on motorcycles in a line.

More than crossing paths

Joint motorbike course helps agencies work together

Members from the RCMP, Ottawa Police Service and Gatineau police complete motorcycle training together to prepare for joint operations in the field. Credit: Courtesy of Sgt. James Mulligan


Thirteen motorcycles roared to life at the RCMP's Technical and Protective Operations Facility (TPOF) east of Ottawa. One by one, members from the RCMP, Ottawa Police Service (OPS) and Service de Police de la Ville de Gatineau took turns weaving through lines of pylons in hopes of becoming a certified motorcycle operator.

"It was challenging to get through the training, not everyone finished," says Cst. Isabelle Vachon, the first female member of Gatineau police's motorcycle unit. "But I feel like I'm getting the best training I can get."

Vachon was one of 11 officers to complete the Joint Basic Police Motorcycle Course, hosted by the RCMP this past May. The three-week course teaches prospective members from all three police agencies about the fundamentals of motorcycle operations.

Policing in Ottawa, Canada's capital city, requires close collaboration between municipal and federal police agencies. From escorting politicians, to enforcing events such as Canada Day, motorcycle operators at Ottawa police, Gatineau police and RCMP often work as one unit to keep the national capital region safe and secure.

"Now when we mix and mingle or cross paths, everyone knows what's going to happen because we have that joint training," says Sgt. James Mulligan, a motorcycle instructor from OPS. "It makes operations so much smoother, very co-ordinated and extremely professional."

On the course

In 2011, Mulligan was a student on that very basic motorcycle training course, with one major difference: OPS, Gatineau police and the RCMP were not yet training together.

"We were at the same location, at the same time, doing what's supposed to be the same course, but we weren't training together," he says.

During that training, Mulligan noticed that the RCMP was doing things differently than OPS — with a higher success rate. Members came out of the RCMP's course with a higher level of skill, faster. "So it made sense to pool resources."

After bringing this up to management, it became Mulligan's job to overhaul OPS's motorcycle program. The goal was to incorporate OPS training with the RCMP's course and best practices to ensure consistency when both agencies worked together in the field.

Mulligan met with RCMP motorcycle instructor and national division program co-ordinator S/Sgt. Luc Gratton, and became an apprentice instructor during RCMP training. He also attended teaching courses in the United States to get the latest best practices. In 2013, OPS and RCMP amalgamated their training courses, with Gatineau police joining shortly after.

"Now we've upped the standard," says Gratton, who has been a motorcycle operator for 18 years. "We've made it more challenging but also improved individual riders' skills. We emphasize security, skills and building confidence with officers and the motorcycle."

Since the training was introduced, Mulligan has noticed a marked difference in the skill level of OPS riders. Before 2013, OPS was averaging four to five motorcycle collisions per year. Now, there hasn't been a collision in three years.

"The course prepares you for the adrenaline and speed," says Mulligan. If you had any nerves going in, this course takes all the nervousness and shakes it out of the riders so we don't have in-service collisions or mistakes made."

On the road

The Joint Basic Police Motorcycle Course makes inter-agency collaboration easy. This past year, Ottawa hosted the North America Leaders Summit, which was attended by U.S. President Barack Obama. While this event is normally policed by municipal forces, OPS called upon the RCMP to assist in escorting the politicians and controlling traffic.

"Knowing that we all had the same training, the transition was very easy," says Gratton.

Members from the RCMP took their bikes and blended seamlessly into the escort formations and plans laid out by Ottawa police.

"I can be riding behind any officer, and depending on their body language, I know exactly what they're going to do before they do it," says Mulligan. "We have to have that trust — one small mistake could cost somebody their life."

Although working together doesn't happen every day, it's made new officers like Vachon feel more at ease when the opportunity presents itself. She's also gained a new respect for motorcycle operators in any police force.

"Before doing the training, I looked at motorcycles and thought, 'that's a cool job,' " says Vachon. "I didn't realize how hard it was to achieve. Now I realize how hard — physically and psychologically — this job is. I don't see my colleagues the same anymore."

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