Weaving deftly through sets of orange cones set out in the Earl Warren Showgrounds parking lot, Officer Tiffany Keller made history Tuesday as she completed training that places her as the first female motorcycle officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department.
Keller was one of four officers to go through the most recent round of training to put motorcycle cops on the street, a two-week course that teaches trainees how to operate the 1,300-cc Honda bikes belonging to the department.
Of the department’s 141 sworn officers, 16 are women, and Keller is the first one to make it through the training.
The training has minimum physical requirements — the biggest of which is being able to “lift” a 750-pound motorcycle from the ground, using the legs as leverage.
Keller has been with the department since 2008, and has worked in dispatch and later on patrol. She told Noozhawk that she wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle on her own time, but classes were always on the weekend, when she usually was working.
The department’s class “is much more extensive” than a private class, she said, and involves drills at Earl Warren as well as street training. The hardest challenge of the training was working “to get over the fear of the bike going down,” she said.
Keller said she is 6-foot-1 in her uniform boots, making the size of the bike less of an issue for her as a rider.
“She really progressed well,” said Jaycee Hunter, who has taught the motorcycle training course for the past 12 years.
Keller had never ridden a motorcycle before the class.
“Some people, regardless of gender, have a natural balance,” he said. “A lot of officers that have not ridden before don’t pass ... . It’s not for everybody.”
Hunter took the trainees out to narrow residential streets on the Riviera so officers could practice doing U-turns at slower speeds, which are especially difficult.
“A lot of civilian riders don’t make these kinds of U-turns, they go around the block,” he said.
The officers have to do quarterly training to work on their skills because many of the turns they learn in training require muscle memory, Hunter said.
The department has six full-time motorcycle officers, and six part-time officers. Keller will be working as a part-time motorcycle officer for now, and will be helping with special events such as Fiesta.
“She’s going to be just fine on the street,” Hunter said.