La Salle-based State Police Trooper Aaron DeRubeis regularly hears people yell, “Hey CHiPs!”
“CHiPs” was a television ratings winner from 1977 to 1983 about motorcycle patrolmen with the California Highway Patrol.
Instead of zooming around Los Angeles in the disco era, DeRubeis patrols the roads of District 17, which takes in La Salle, Bureau and Putnam counties.
He is the only motorcycle-borne officer in the region and the first one in District 17 in decades. State police have about 46 motorcycle troopers around Illinois.
DeRubeis said he has driven a motorcycle in his private life for 20 years, but when he learned two years ago District 17 was interested in rolling out a two-wheeled trooper, he applied and was accepted.
DeRubeis did two weeks of motorcycle school and two weeks hands-on training, before hitting the road on a state-owned 2013 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.
“The motorcycle is great for public relations. It’s a great ice breaker. Every day people come up and ask me about it. Motorists get a kick out of it. They’ll give me a thumbs up,” DeRubeis observed.
Sometimes children will be drawn to the Harley-Davidson at gas stations and other stops he makes. DeRubeis said he will let the youngsters have their photos taken sitting on the machine. With helmet, gloves and knee-high boots, DeRubeis also makes for a unique sight.
In one unusual case, DeRubeis pulled over a woman on a serious traffic violation, but the woman was so enchanted with the motorcycle, she had her photo taken posing next to it.
The advantages of a motorcycle are many: it is cheaper on gas, can get into tight places a larger vehicle cannot, can weave through heavy traffic and is useful for escort duty.
The Harley-Davidson also presents a smaller silhouette — in other words, it has a certain stealth.
“I’ve had cars go 100 mph past me in the next lane. After I pulled them over, they said they never saw me there,” DeRubeis recalled.
As certain drivers see less, DeRubeis sees more.
“I can see a lot more on a motorcycle, like seeing people talking on cell phones,” DeRubeis said.
The Harley also has disadvantages. The motorcycle must remain in the garage during uncooperative weather. DeRubeis can’t transport a suspect or a stranded driver, or carry all the equipment carried by a car.
Nonetheless, DeRubeis, who previously worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Toluca police, is happy on his Harley, saying, “I have the best job there is. I get to ride on two wheels.”