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State bike cop talks about life on the freeway

State bike cop talks about life on the freeway

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Jeffrey Snyder is watching. He's there on the side of the road, waiting for a speeder.

Snyder works for the Illinois State Police Motorcycle Enforcement Bureau, patrolling the byways and highways of the Metro East.

We talked with him last week about his job, why he always gets on his bike from the right and what it's like to be in a "wolf pack."

Question: Why did you join the motorcycle unit?

Answer: My boss said, 'I think you would like this.' On the last day to submit a resume, I faxed it up and got accepted to Motor School.

Q: How hard was Motor School?

A: The toughest training I think I've ever been through in my entire life. A lot of habits people have, they have to unlearn. Most people get off a motorcycle on the left side, because it leans to the left (on the kickstand). Motor officers almost always exit on the right side because most of our stops are on the right shoulder. You don't want to exit the motorcycle on the left. If you fall or somebody's over the white line, you might get run over.

Q: How important is safety?

A: Safety is the No. 1 concern. When you're on a bike, if you make a mistake at 100 mph, more than likely it's going to be a fatal mistake. If you lose control in a car, you might just spin out, but on a bike, there's no spinning out.

Q: How does weather affect you?

A: The last couple of weeks have been horrible out there. But there's no amount of heat that's going to keep me off a motorcycle. Motor officers aren't told when to ride our motorcycles. We all have police cars at home. But there's not a motor officer I know that doesn't want to be on that motorcycle.

Q: What is the difference in patrolling on a motorcycle rather than squad car?

A: The public doesn't see us as easily. There were a number of times I might be driving down the interstate at 65 mph, and somebody will cruise by at 100 mph.

Q: How do you patrol?

A: Usually we work in wolf packs, a couple of us in an area. There's been a couple of times when a trooper has clocked a rocket bike at 130 miles per hour. At that speed there's no way he could catch it, but it was coming toward where another trooper and I were working. All we had to do was wait. I don't believe the offender even knew there was a police motorcycle back there.

Q: Is that a common reaction, for drivers not to realize you are there?

A: Absolutely. Lets say I'm behind a vehicle doing 80 with my lights on. They might not notice me. When they do, they panic. People have a habit of what we call "throwing out the anchor." They go from 80 to just crushing the brake. You don't want to be up behind that vehicle so close that you can't get the motorcycle shut down in time.

Q: Do you have an advantage in hiding?

A: Yes, but you don't even have to hide. I usually park on the shoulder. The (radar gun) can pretty much shoot as far as you can see. At that distance, I probably look like a speck on the shoulder on the road. So even parked on the shoulder in broad daylight, they can't tell until they get closer.

Q: Have people's driving habits changed?

A: Nowadays, everybody is in a hurry. Last week, I clocked a lady at 86, she was 74 years old. I clocked a girl 16 years old driving 83. Everybody's speeding now. We're going to try to change those back. Our mission is to educate the public that speed is a major contributor to serious injury and fatal crashes.

Q: What is the most unusual thing that's happened to you on a motorcycle?

A: In 2009, we were leaving lunch and a fellow motor officer noticed a vehicle run a red light. Before he could make a traffic stop the car had already pulled over. It turned out the woman was having a heart attack. We ended up doing CPR and saving her life. It's not like the movies; it doesn't always work. But it saved her life. It gives you a warm feeling that what we're doing out here really means something.

Contact reporter Scott Cousins at 618-344-0264, ext. 113

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