In 1997, UIPD LT Dave Nelson (Ret) and Ofc Steve Mechling (Ret) began researching motorcycles in policing. The research showed that motorcycles in a police setting could enhance traffic enforcement efforts and help establish better ties with the community. They had discovered that UIPD had tried out motorcycles in the 70’s, but the program was not long lived. Nelson and Mechling spoke with UIPD CPT Kallmayer (Ret) about their idea for a motor unit at UIPD. Kallmayer helped write multiple proposals that were submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval, but they were inevitably not approved as there were too many unknowns at the time.
Fast forward to 1999, Nelson and Mechling, both of whom were avid motorcyclists, attended a “Harley Owners Group” (HOG for short) Chapter Ride. HOG Chapter Rides are social events for Harley-Davidson Motorcycle enthusiasts and enable a way for bikers to get together and ride. While at the Chapter Ride, Nelson and Mechling had a conversation with Sharon Andrae, who with her husband, Dick, own Andrae’s Harley-Davidson in Urbana. Sharon told Nelson and Mechling that UIPD should start a Police Motorcycle Unit, and she had an idea of how to help get it off the ground.
Harley-Davidson had a new program specifically tailored for law enforcement agencies to acquire police motorcycles. Harley-Davidson would ship a brand new motorcycle to one of their dealerships. The dealership would then lease the motorcycle to the police department for $1.00 a year. You read that right… $1/year! Sharon told Nelson and Mechling all about how this program works and immediately agreed to sign UIPD up through Andrea’s.
Nelson, Mechling, and Kallmayer re-wrote their proposal for UIPD to start a Motor Unit with this new information and excitedly submitted it to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees agreed to the proposal and the UIPD Motor Unit was born.
Upon Board approval, Sharon Andrae called up Harley-Davidson to have a brand-new police motorcycle shipped down from the plant in Michigan, but there was a hiccup. Harley-Davidson did not have a bike ready to ship! After a few phone calls, Harley-Davidson had found a bike for UIPD … in the Virgin Islands! A police department there had signed up for the same program and had already had a bike shipped to the Islands. Upon its arrival, they decided they did not want it anymore. A second problem Harley-Davidson passed on to Sharon was the motorcycle was blue, not the standard white. Sharon ordered the motorcycle and Harley-Davidson began the process to ship the motorcycle back to the US.
Meanwhile, in order to lease the motorcycle, Harley-Davidson had a specific requirement. The operator would be required to complete a Certified 80 hour Police Motorcycle Operator Course. Northwestern Traffic Institute ran these classes hand in hand with Harley-Davidson, who supplied the motorcycles and performed the daily maintenance required from the grueling course. UIPD hosted the class at the former Chanute Air Force Base. Five officers put their names in to become the first UIPD Motor Unit Officer, and Officer George Sandwick was selected for the task. Sandwick was selected because he was considered the best rider among the group and had the best chance of passing the course, which had a failure rate of over 50%. The class was held during a cold and very wet April, 1999. Sandwick took 2nd place in his class and reflects that it was one of the most satisfying achievements he has ever accomplished.
Soon after the course was completed, things began to happen quickly. The motorcycle, a Dark Blue 1999 Electra Glide, arrived in Urbana. However, the emergency lights that were supposed to be in the crate from the factory were missing. Best guess is they were stolen while in transit from the Virgin Islands.
After being assembled in Urbana, the Electra Glide was sent to Squad Fitters, owned by “Big Bill” Weisinger, to get outfitted with lights and sirens. Squad Fitters was a Police Motorcycle and Police Equipment Outfitter located in Urbana, IL. Big Bill also wanted to see the UIPD Police Motorcycle Program succeed and through the years would equip UIPD motorcycles with the latest emergency lighting at reduced pricing or without charge. Weisinger helped Ofc Sandwick get outfitted with a helmet, special radio equipment, gloves, and boots. After the Electra Glide was outfitted correctly with emergency equipment, basic white decals were made to affix to the front and sides of the gas tank.
With everything operational and Ofc Sandwick fully equipped, the UIPD Motor Unit took off during the summer of 1999. Sandwick enjoyed the work and would ride all day patrolling the campus, especially the areas where squad cars could not drive, running traffic, and taking reports. Squad Fitters had a periodical they would publish. Not long after the motorcycle program started, Sandwick had this to say at the time, “I started driving through our patrol areas and was amazed at how different our patrol area was on the motorcycle as compared to in a squad car. I could observe things from a higher perspective without the glass to hamper my vision or hearing. But what really surprised me was the response from the public...The bike really has a positive community policing image that I had not seen before...at stop signs or lights, I regularly find myself speaking to other drivers next to me or saying hello to pedestrians as I pass by them. People flag me down to talk about the motorcycle and later explain their concerns about other issues like traffic safety or crime in general..” 1
With the success of Officer Sandwick and the Motor Unit, it was decided to add a second officer to the unit to maximize ride time. Officer Mechling was chosen and completed his training in February of 2001. Around this same time, Harley-Davidson was trying to market a new bike for police use and was looking for departments to test it out, a 2001 Dyna Defender. Sharon at Andrea’s utilized this opportunity from Harley-Davidson and donated the Dyna Defender to UIPD, bringing our inventory of bikes to two.
In 2002, UIPD returned the Dyna Defender to Andrea’s and received a used 2000 Electra glide bike that had been previously used by the Cole’s County Sheriff’s Office. The lease program through Andrea’s Harley-Davidson allows UIPD to upgrade to a new bike every few years, so in 2004, UIPD traded in the original 1999 Electra Glide for a new 2004 model. Andrea’s plan was to remove the police markings on the 1999 Electra Glide and sell it as a used model. Officer Mechling, who loved that first bike, purchased it from Andrae’s for himself, so the bike was able to stay connected to the UIPD family.
UIPD continued to upgrade bikes every few years, and in 2014 the department decided to purchase the 2012 model that we were getting ready to trade in outright at a used cost of $10,500. After this purchase, we were still leasing two bikes bringing our total for the unit up to three motorcycles. Although the $1.00 program through Harley-Davidson had come to an end years ago, Sharon Andrae insists that the program continue through her. In 2019, UIPD honored Sharon Andrea for 20 years of support and appreciation for what she has done for UIPD and the local community.
Besides regular patrol, UIPD utilizes the motor unit for an assortment of tasks including: Football game lot patrols and team escorts, parades, funerals, memorial services, public outreach events, and many more.
Only a few members of UIPD have had the honor of being on the Motor Unit. They are:
Ofc George Sandwick
Ofc Steve Mechling (Ret)
Ofc Jon Whittington (Ret)
Ofc John Wright
Ofc Kaleb Schroeder
Ofc Chris Elston
Ofc Nick Perrine
Ofc Drew Osterholt
A special thanks to Steve Mechling for taking the time to sit down and share the history of the Motor Unit.
A very special thank you to Sharon Andrea for her continued support throughout the years. Without her, our Motor Unit would never have been possible.
Also, thank you to Bill Weisinger, owner of the former Squad Fitters who provided emergency equipment for the bikes of the Motor Unit.
Click on the image below to scroll through photos of the Motor Unit throughout the years and check out how the color scheme on the bikes has progressed over time!
1 Sandwick, George. “Volume 1, Issue 2.” Squadfitters, 1999, www.squadfitters.com/more-info/motor-squad-beat/issue-2.