La Habra motor sergeant likes being a ‘gentle reminder’ for traffic safety

By Shawn Price

La Habra PD Sgt. Jim Tigner has had a long and complex relationship with the motorcycle. It’s where the veteran traffic sergeant is most happy when he’s working, but also, he’s well aware of its drawbacks and dangers.

And that drives much of his love for the job: He wants everyone to be as capable and aware on the road as he tries to be, whether they’re in a car, truck, or motorcycle.

“To me, it’s important for a traffic sergeant to be on a motorcycle,” says Tigner. “It is important to me that we do our best to set the example to the motoring public. I put special emphasis on motorcycle safety in regard to my officers.”

He says he didn’t ride growing up, “because my dad had a serious injury from a motorcycle crash when he was a teen and messed up his knee pretty badly.”

But it wasn’t enough to shut off the allure of it.

“I was a pretty loyal ‘CHiPs’ watcher when I was a kid,” he says.

Tigner started at La Habra PD as a cadet at just 18 years old. At 19, while still in college at Cal State Long Beach, he was hired as a jailer.

“As a jailer I learned how to treat people that were under stress,” he says. “My time working the jail was very valuable and I was grateful for the opportunity.”

He had so many ride-alongs and learned so much about how things worked that by the time he became a sworn officer in 1999, he made a smooth transition to the streets.

“I worked DUIs pretty aggressively when I was a new and young officer. They’re not cut and dry,” Tigner says. “I went to classes and learned my stuff (about the effects of drugs and alcohol on drivers).”

Because of that dedication, Tigner won the MADD Century Award for making more than 100 DUI arrests in a year. That accomplishment came while he worked as a beat officer on other calls, too.

Tigner gave significant credit to retired La Habra PD Sgt. Dave Crivelli, who mentored and motivated him to go after DUI drivers. That year, Tigner and Crivelli both had over 100 DUI arrests – something they took great pride in making the streets safer.

La Habra PD Sgt. Jim Tigner talks about the importance of having a sergeant on a motorcycle.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In a commuter city like La Habra, he says he can see the effect he and other officers have on drivers.

“As retired La Habra PD Motor Sgt. Phil Gray told me, ‘You get to have an immediate impact on safety. It’s instant gratification.’ If people know motor officers are out there, they think, ‘Did I signal? Am I wearing my seat belt?’ It’s a gentle reminder to get back to the basics of safely driving.”

The gratification comes because the results matter to Tigner.

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Statistically, more people are hurt and killed in traffic collisions than in assaults,” he says. “It’s so easy to drive more safely, and that’s our mission. When you reduce collisions, you reduce injuries.

“I believe our presence makes a difference. And our approach is not simply to hammer people with tickets, but to get out the message in different ways. We also give ‘good tickets’ for free Slurpees at 7-Eleven when kids are doing the right things. We do public speaking engagements and presentations. We coordinate a BMX stunt show every year to our middle schools emphasizing bike helmet usage.”

Tigner and the motors in the traffic unit train frequently to keep their skills as riders as sharp as possible and, after discussion with a lot of motorcycle-riding members of the public, he and other officers plan to host a one-day workshop in 2018 on improving motorcycle skills.

Most weeks, as much as 20 percent of his day can be spent on parking-related issues and complaints. Tigner also attends a lot of meetings — school, city, and county meetings — where he gives valuable perspective as the police traffic representative.

Tigner also supervises La Habra PD’s school resource officers and manages the department’s annual grant funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety.

“The traffic sergeant position, like many others in Southern California, are busy desks,” Tigner says. “But we have a great traffic team and I still enjoy the work we do. My team does great work, both enforcement and public relations, and I am very proud of them.”

But at heart, “I’m a field guy,” Tigner says with a smile. “And being outside on the bike and interacting with people is what the job is all about.”

He adds: “I still get to go out every day and make a real difference,. It may be work, but it’s still gratifying and fun.”