Woman Motorcycle Cop Shatters Glass Ceiling in Santa Cruz
In 145 years, the Santa Cruz Police Department has never had a female motorcycle officer…until now.
Lt. Colleen McMahon has achieved the required mastery of her 800-pound Harley-Davidson, and that puts her first among equals. But according to McMahon, her new gig doesn’t come without some misgivings. McMahon makes no bones about the pressure she feels that comes with being a motorcycle officer, but said managing her bike is as much about mental focus as it is about pure physical strength.
McMahon finished her motorcycle officer training at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Motor Academy. According to her instructor there – a man with 15 years on the job – she’s the only woman he’s ever ridden with.
“Women motorcyclists are still relatively rare, especially in law enforcement,” McMahon said.
The California Highway Patrol has a lone female motorcycle officer, Tammy Bogard, on the force.
As a biker outside of work, McMahon said it seemed like kismet that she be trained as a motor officer.
“I’ve lived, eaten and breathed motorcycles for nine years,” she said. “Ever since I started, I admired motor officers, and I’ve gotten so much support here it’s amazing.”
“It’s my job as a chief to provide opportunities to staff,” said Santa Cruz Chief of Police Kevin Vogel. “We’re proud that Lt. McMahon helped eliminate another glass ceiling and opened the door for all officers to experience the possibilities in this profession.”
So how does it feel to switch over to a bike nearly a third heavier than her daily rider?
Her 2007 Harley-Davidson Road King police bike weighs something like 300 pounds more than her personal BMW touring motorcycle. She said that while the police bike is considerably less nimble, she’s not letting that slow her down.
“I have to use a little more strategy (than a larger person), but once I’m under way, it’s effortless,” McMahon said. “It’s really ballet on a motorcycle with all the thing officers have to do. Just making tight turns on a big bike like that. This is where it’s hard to do.”
McMahon taught motorcycle safety at Cabrillo College for seven years, and it’s that experience which makes her perfect for the job on the road.
“Each step gaining mastery of the motorcycle is gaining mastery over yourself,” McMahon said. “It opens some interior door. I hope when I’m on my bike women will see me and say, ‘I think I’ll do that, or maybe I can do that.’ And they can.”
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