Phillip Matier & Andrew Ross
Monday, June 9, 2008
Over in Oakland they like it loud - so loud that all 45 of the Police Department's Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been equipped with shiny new tailpipes, at a cost of $500 apiece, to rev up their roar.
It seems the cops just didn't feel safe on toned-down bikes.
"There's an old motorcycle adage that you are heard before you are seen," said Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki, explaining the department's decision to toss the bikes' muted factory-issued mufflers in favor of the more high-volume pipes.
Kozicki cited an accident three months ago in which an Oakland officer riding a toned-down cycle was struck by a motorist who said he hadn't heard the officer approaching.
But some City Hall insiders, as well as motorcycle cops elsewhere, said the safety argument is a stretch.
Even the folks at the national Motorcycle Industry Council, which represents all the big bike manufacturers, were unaware of any safety benefits from louder mufflers.
"We encourage all motorcycle riders to keep the original low sound levels that meet the ... federal sound limit of 80 decibels," said industry spokesman Mike Mount. "It would seem counterintuitive that a law enforcement agency would go against federal standards."
Ironically, it was just a short time back that Oakland police were called upon to crack down on noisy motorists who had modified their auto mufflers to make a whistling screech. The "whistle tip" pipes were eventually outlawed under state law.
Oakland's cops had a long tradition of riding their Harley-Davidsons with the modified, louder tail pipes, earning them the nickname "Rolling Thunder." But after an officer complained about a loss of hearing and others around town questioned whether the police force was violating the very noise standards it was supposed to enforce, the department brass ordered a switch to the quieter stock mufflers.
According to Kozicki, the decibel drop sparked a chorus of complaints from other officers, who said they felt less safe.
So last year the department launched a $1,200 study in conjunction with the city's risk management division to determine whether A) the louder motorcycles contributed to officers' safety, B) were detrimental to their hearing, and C) complied with noise standards.
Kozicki acknowledged that whatever safety-related findings the study produced were largely anecdotal. Still, after everything was taken into consideration, the department concluded "it was in the best interest of the officers to put more-audible pipes back on," Kozicki said.
Hence, all 30 of the department's Harleys were sent down to the central maintenance yard for a muffler makeover, at a cost of about $15,000, according to City Hall insiders. Another 15 newly purchased motorcycles were ordered with the louder pipes, though at no extra charge.
Oakland officials acknowledge that the noisy pipes, when tested, averaged 93 decibels - well above the federal legal noise limit, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
But city Finance Director Bill Nolan, who oversees the risk management division, isn't alarmed.
"If they were riding eight straight hours, it would be a problem," he said. "But they aren't."
Empty holster: San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong found herself on the media whoopee cushion the other day after a disgruntled officer leaked news that the top cop had gone years without taking target practice down at the range - something that's required of her own troops.
But for all the potential embarrassment to the chief, Fong may not be required to practice her hot shots after all.
"State law may exempt the police chief from qualifying," Police Commission President Theresa Sparks told us Friday, just days after she suggested the chief might face some kind of discipline for violating department training rules.
Sparks said she's still waiting for a confirmation from legal experts on whether the state law pre-empts the department's general orders requiring all cops who carry guns to qualify at the range. The Police Commission hopes to sort it all out at closed-door session Wednesday.
Officer Andrew Cohen, who leaked the chief's slip, may be in hot water himself.
Cohen - who was banished to the records room after producing a series of satiric police videos back in 2005 - could find himself facing charges for outing Fong.
"These are confidential personnel records, and I think its clear Officer Cohen leaked this information," Sparks said.
She has asked for an investigation into how Cohen got the info on the chief in the first place. The commission boss is also curious as to how many other department officials have failed to take target practice, as well as how many rank-and-file cops have been disciplined for violating the training regulations.
For the record, Cohen tells us any leaking he did is a legally "protected act of whistle-blowing."
Family matters: Castro Valley attorney Dennis Hayashi is headed into a runoff for the Alameda County Superior Court bench with a pledge to be "impartial and independent of the Legislature" if elected.
Nice pitch, but it should be noted that Hayashi got $50,000 in contributions from a state legislator - both for the recent primary race and to help retire campaign debts from an earlier run for the AC Transit board.
And his Sacramento angel wasn't just any legislator - it was his wife, Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi.
Records show the Castro Valley Democrat chipped in more than $30,000 from her campaign accounts - money raised from drug companies, health care providers, banks and other major interests - to bolster her husband's judicial bid.
According to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, there's no prohibition on a state officeholder contributing to someone else's campaign - even if that someone happens to be a spouse.
As for wannabe judge Hayashi's pledge to be independent of Sacramento political interests, he insists that relying on his wife's contributors isn't an issue.
"As a member of the state Legislature, she raises money from all kinds of sources," Dennis Hayashi said. "That doesn't have anything to do with ruling from the bench."
Critics might argue that Hayashi's wife is helping him buy a job, but he says, "We definitely don't see it that way."