On Monday, Officer Larry Vietz was more than ready to once again ride a Harley-Davidson Road King throughout Lodi, issuing citations for speeding and illegal left-hand turns.
Vietz is one of the only officers to volunteer to return to the Lodi's traffic unit, or "the Motors." It is considered a tough assignment because officers are on their motorcycles even in the extreme heat, downpours and icy conditions.
"There's not big interest. There are not a long line of guys wanting to do this," Vietz said.
But for the more than 20-year veteran, it's the best assignment out there.
"I like riding the motorcycle and the tradition of the motor officer," Vietz said. "You earn that title — it's not just given to you, you have to work for it. You are part of a group up and down the state and throughout the United States, and everyone knows what motor officers do."
Motor officers focus on traffic enforcement, specifically problems that tend to lead to more serious accidents: speeding, making illegal left-hand turns and failure to yield violations.
Vietz cites one advantage: Motor officers do not have to go out on calls, so they are not tied up in day-to-day patrols.
Being on a motorcycle helps the division catch more violators, Vietz said, because drivers tend to slam on the brakes when they see a patrol car, but they might miss an officer on a motorcycle.
"The motorcycle lets us see people how they would normally drive rather than seeing a black-and-white," Vietz said.
Members of the traffic unit are all members of the Major Accident Investigation Team, which is called out on fatal and major injury accidents. The officers also work traffic control and security during special events, like the Downtown Lodi Farmers Market, the Grape Festival and walk-a-thons or races.
Statewide, when an officer dies in the line of duty, the unit participates in motorcades, which Vietz describes as a motors tradition that helped him decide to join the traffic unit.
When Officer Rick Cromwell died in 1998 while he was on-duty on his motorcycle, Vietz said he was impressed with how officers from around the state supported Lodi.
"You see the pride and you see the dedication as far as motor officers coming together to bring honor to a guy that has fallen," he said.
Vietz, a former Marine, joined the Lodi Police Department in 1991. He was one of the first members of the street crime unit, and also worked on the gang unit.
In the early 2000s, he started as a motor officer and stayed in that position for nine years until 2010.
The department tends to switch out officers from different positions every five years, so everyone gets to serve on an assignment they want, Vietz said. When he had to switch, he went to patrol, but always dreamed of returning to motors.
With officer Eric Versteeg being promoted to sergeant on Monday, a spot opened up on the traffic unit and Vietz decided to take it.
He rides a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide in his spare time, often in the foothills and Sierras, so he has stayed sharp on a bike.
"You gotta like riding motorcycles, and it's one of my best hobbies," Vietz said. He is most looking forward to getting back into the routine of being on the motorcycle out on the street.
"To get the opportunity to do it a second time is the best thing that could happen to me," Vietz said.