The Coronado Police Department recently congratulated its first female motorcycle officer, or motor officer, after Samantha Gearlds trained for several months and passed a three-week academy.
Gearlds, a longtime biker on and off for about 10 years, said she’s never experienced something so “grueling” — that’s the word, she said, adding that the mental toll is what really takes it out of you.
She described a sport motorcycle (also known as a “crotch rocket”) that she crashed at 70 mph in college as well as her current Harley Davidson bike which she hasn’t “slipped.”
“It’s definitely not anything like dealing with this police bike,” she said, explaining how the machine is heavier but the skill also requires tight maneuvering at slow speeds; she threw herself from the bike several times during training.
Gearlds, who joined the department in 2017, said there are now five CPD motor officers, and there are certain standards one has to meet before being selected to complete the academy, including physical requirements and an interview process.
Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified instructor and CPD senior motor officer Danny Aguirre most often trained Gearlds and her colleague, Officer Stephen Snodgrass, at a huge parking lot typically used for special events near Silver Strand State Beach.
“He would test on different cone patterns or how we’re riding, so everything we did was critiqued and graded — evaluations every day,” Gearlds said, adding that Aguirre was a fantastic instructor, enthusiastic and loves to ride as well as always wants to teach you and make sure you’re safe. “He would say, ‘Do this, try this, this might help, you’re doing this wrong so try this.’”
Gearlds was asleep every night by 5 or 6 after the constant moving and maneuvering of the bike.
“It’s definitely physically demanding but I would say it’s mostly mentally demanding because you’re doing a lot of things you don’t normally do,” she said, noting she still has a scrape on her elbow from launching herself out of a really tight, slow-speed turn. “There’s a lot of mental exhaustion because you’re learning new things.”
The syllabus included a little classroom time and some mountain riding as well as plenty of safety techniques such as low-speed maneuvers, collision avoidance, emergency braking, emergency driving, traffic stops, counter steering and curve negotiation.
Gearlds said the hardest part was getting out of her comfort zone and doing maneuvers she wasn’t used to doing, getting used to the fact that she was going to fall off while learning.
Motor officers work anything traffic-related and accident-related since being on bikes makes it easier to move around and access difficult places in traffic or a collision.
Originally from Mississippi, Gearlds attended police academy after college and was a canine officer before heading to California.
When asked what it feels like to be CPD’s first female motor officer, Gearlds responded she just wanted something different and thought a motorcycle would be nice.
“I knew going in I would be the first female — no pressure there — but part of me was excited to be the first female.”
Gearlds recalled how on the Facebook post CPD shared about her achievement, one of the commenters noted how her daughter saw Gearlds riding through the Tidelands area and thought it was so cool to see a woman cop on a bike.
“If I can make at least one little girl smile…” Gearlds said, considering.
The new motor officer discussed how while law enforcement is a male-dominated field, 1/3 of the CPD patrol officers are female, “which is really high for a department.”
“Being a female motor officer, we’re an even fewer group,” Gearlds said, speculating she might be the only current one in San Diego County.
When asked what advice she might have for young women contemplating a career in general or a career in law enforcement, Gearlds shared a quote she said she absolutely loves.
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
The Henry Ford quote resonates with Gearlds.
“I knew going in, this is what I wanted, this is what I’m going for,” she said, sharing how her mom’s fellow teacher was also a police officer and Gearlds saw how he tried to interact with people positively. “You have to work hard. Whether that’s twice as hard as a guy or not, set your mind to it.”
When asked what’s tough about riding a motorcycle, Gearlds said you just have to not be scared and know that a lot of work goes into it.
“The more scared you are — when you think you’re gonna get hurt— that’s when you get into problems,” she said. “Don’t be scared of the machine, respect it.”
Her 10-year career doesn’t even feel like work, she said. Gearlds said she enjoys this style of policing and said CPD is the best department. She added that things locally lately “have been amazing.”
“It’s the community,” she said. “I give more stickers here than I’ve given in my entire life.”