EASTHAMPTON — Two $ 25,000 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic motorcycles are now among the Easthampton Police Department’s vehicle fleet.
The motorcycles are “very exciting” and “an example of community policing at its best,” Mayor Karen Cadieux said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, as the two bikes were parked outside the municipal building with their blue lights flashing.
“We purchased them out of, I hate to say this, but thank God for drug money,” said Cadieux.
Cadieux added that she once had a Road King Classic. “Everybody’s crazy about them. I just wanted to introduce them, and hope you love them,” she said.
The motorcycles were purchased at Harley-Davidson of Southampton and picked up Nov. 15, according to the motorcycle shop’s Facebook page.
Officer Kyle Gribi, a member of the four-person motorcycle unit, told city councilors the police department had motorcycles in the 1920s, and showed them vintage photos.
“There are certain capabilities the motorcycle gives us that are unique,” said Gribi. “They are more maneuverable, and can get into places you can’t with full-sized vehicles.”
He said the motorcycles could be used to patrol the Manhan Rail Trail, or during special events such as parades. Gribi said the motorcycles, to be put into service this spring, will allow police to be more visible and accessible to the community.
Council President Joseph McCoy asked if the officers will receive training.
Gribi said yes: “Riding a motorcycle is one thing, but riding a police motorcycle in traffic, responding to emergencies, there are obviously more issues to be aware of.”
Councilor Jennifer Hayes asked about the cost of such training. Gribi said there is a range of options. Harley-Davidson offers a course for police officers that is expensive, he said, but other programs are available.
Members of the City Council asked no further questions.
Forfeiture money “beneficial”
In an interview Thursday, Police Chief Robert Alberti said the motorcycles were purchased with federal drug forfeiture funds, an arrangement that lets the department procure equipment above and beyond what’s provided for in the annual police department budget.
The funds, by law, cannot be used to plug holes in the department budget, Alberti said, and must be used for supplementary items.
“There are very strict rules for how the money can be spent,” he said.
The Easthampton Police Department has benefited from the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture program for a decade, and monies have been used to buy a $ 15,000 Kubota rough terrain vehicle, a pickup truck, firearms and more, he said.
“We’re fortunate to have that account,” he said. “It’s beneficial to the city and taxpayers.” He said other surrounding communities also make use of the funds.
Alberti, before he was promoted to chief in 2016, was a member of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force. He participated in numerous federal investigations, resulting in the seizures of firearms, vehicles, real estate, narcotics and cash over $ 2 million, according to the department’s website.
He said there are still potential monies pending from that era, as complicated drug cases make their way through the federal courts.
Alberti noted that, in 2014, Easthampton police helped track down Javier Gonzales and Jamil Roman, two men from Springfield and Chicopee charged with transporting cocaine from Mexico in an 18-wheeler hauling automobiles with secret compartments. Authorities seized $ 1.5 million in cash during those arrests and subsequent raids. The money was shared among participating law enforcement agencies.
Alberti provided The Republican with a document showing that, as of June 30, there was $ 359,465 in the Easthampton Police Department’s federal “Equitable Sharing Fund.” The annual certification report was sent to the U.S. Department of Justice by Alberti and Cadieux in July.
In fiscal 2017, $ 32,273 was spent from the fund, including $ 2,500 for “law enforcement operations and investigations,” $ 2,522 for training and education, and $ 27,251 for equipment.
A separate account is kept for local forfeitures, said Alberti, as co-mingling the accounts is prohibited by law. For forfeitures related to local prosecutions, half of the money goes to the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Data on Easthampton’s local forfeiture account was not immediately available.
Alberti said while police purchases from drug forfeiture funds need no approval from the City Council, the department does follow city procurement rules and authorization is still needed from the corner office.
“The mayor signs a purchase order, and it goes through (City Finance Director Melissa Zawadzki),” Alberti said, adding that the police department itself does not cut checks from the account.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July reinstated civil forfeiture rules to help state and local police take cash and property from people suspected of a crime, even if they have not been charged. Sessions came under fire from Democratic and Republican lawmakers who expressed concerns about previous abuses of the program.
Asked if Easthampton police have ever confiscated property from such individuals, Alberti said no. “We’ve always had to wait for a conviction,” he said.
Since 2008, police agencies across the country made more than 55,000 seizures worth $ 3 billion, according to the Washington Post. The program allowed local and state police to make seizures and then share the proceeds with federal agencies.
Alberti said the radar-equipped motorcycles will aid in traffic enforcement, patrol duties, escorts, public relations and parades. Their ability to accelerate and maneuver through traffic jams will decrease emergency response times and help nab traffic violators. The bikes are “excellent for public relations,” as children and guests at special events “are always fascinated by the motorcycles,” he said in an email.
“We are extremely proud to have such highly skilled and professional motor officers here at the Easthampton Police Department that will attend additional training in the spring,” Alberti wrote. “These officers are very dedicated and will train rigorously to provide efficient police services to our community.”