Dunedin’s first motorcycle patrolman

Dunedin’s first motorcycle patrolman, Bobby Ayers, astride his new Harley-Davidson in 1958.

For almost 100 years, Dunedin had its own police department. In 1899, our first elected town marshal was A. J. Grant, and as time went on the department continued to grow. In 1926, Dunedin elected to become a city and Rhada L. Chalk was appointed its first police chief, charged with establishing a new police department.

By late 1953, the department had a squad car, the chief of police, four patrolmen and a brand new headquarters on the corner of Main Street and Broadway.

In 1955, a young Dunedin resident, Robert “Bobby” Ayers, eagerly wanted to become a policeman and applied for a position with the department. Bobby was selected and received his police training. The one request he had in his interview was that the department consider including a motorcycle in its transportation fleet because it had attributes that exceeded those of a regular cruiser. The chief considered his idea and after checking information, traffic conditions, and the city budget, Bobby got his wish. The Dunedin Police Department purchased its first motorcycle in January 1958.

The motorcycle was a brand-new Harley-Davidson, and Ayers became Dunedin’s first motorcycle patrolman. The motorcycle had quicker acceleration, making it more efficient in traffic control and enforcement. It also had the ease of operating in narrow lanes and was economical to run. The motorcycle was also equipped with all the new equipment such as red-and-white flashing lights and siren, as well as a two-way radio transmitter.

Ayers served as traffic officer for Dunedin aboard his motorcycle concentrating on traffic duties, school zones and the occasional leading off all the Dunedin parades or special celebrations. At one point it was rumored that so many people saw Bobby around the town with the motorcycle that the department was planning to replace all cruisers with motorcycles.

The police chief replied that cruisers were as much an important piece of police equipment, but the motorcycle did play an important role.

In September of 1964, the City Commission approved Ordinance 290, which allowed another Harley-Davidson motorcycle to be purchased for the low bid of $1,255.69, and it was immediately put into enforcement use. After the purchase of the second motorcycle, patrolmen Clinton Lesley and Robert Haworth received their training and became part of the motorcycle patrol. Years later, on Aug. 1, 1983, Haworth would be appointed director of public safety because of his 20 years of service and experience.

During the workday it would not be unusual for Patrolman Ayers to be seen around town on his motorcycle saying hello to friends, neighbors and children walking home from school. In fact, Bobby was known to be a little bit of a practical joker, and in the mid-’60s he would stop male citizens along the sidewalks or street-crossings in Dunedin to ticket all those who did not have a respectable mustache for the Dunedin festival “50 Years of Progress in Pinellas County.”

The fine for all male adults was $1. At the end of the event Bobby donated all the proceeds to the Crippled Children’s Hospital and the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch.

Around 1984 Ayers retired from the department with almost 30 years of service. This did not stop him from being active in the community as a civilian. For more than 15 years, he volunteered at the National Armed Services and Law Enforcement Memorial Museum on Douglas Avenue, welcoming visitors, giving tours and discussing the history of the police department.

Today, if you see Bobby Ayers, minus the mustache and motorcycle, take a minute to shake his hand and thank him for all his years of service protecting schoolchildren and families traveling on the roads. Mention his service as our first motorcycle patrolman and just being a really nice guy.

Vinnie Luisi is director of the Dunedin History Museum.