Why Cops Can't Drive, Part 2 - Training - LawOfficer.com

Why Cops Can't Drive, Part 2

How 2 departments fixed the problem

 


 

Craig Peterson | From the March 2006 Issue Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"It costs too much."

That's the usual answer to the seldom-asked question: Why don't we spend more on training to mold our officers into superior drivers? At first glance the objection to this cost appears valid. Departments don't have a spare $10 million to construct a driver-training facility, and many commanders blanch at the thought of taking an experienced officer out of service for a week and laying out big bucks for advanced driver training. The idea of similarly training every officer in the department seems so fantastic to most senior brass they hardly give it any serious consideration. And to many, the very act of implementing advanced driver training somehow suggests a failure to train officers properly in the first place.

But while most departments ignore the toll in mangled police vehicles and officers injured or killed not to mention the collateral damage inflicted on the public simply accepting it as the unavoidable byproduct of police work, some departments have acted to change the status quo and fix the problem.

Fairfax County's Solution

The Fairfax County (Va.) Police Department (FCPD) is one such department. Until 1985, the FCPD had relied on a regional academy's facility for its driver-training needs. Nobody liked it much. Located at a former drag strip, the site afforded little more than basic, slow-speed exercises, typical parking-lot stuff. Not only did the students hate it, so did the instructors, many of whom privately doubted the adequacy of their own training. And judging from the accident statistics, Fairfax brass were inclined to agree.

Looking for a solution, the captain in charge of the training division undertook the task of developing a top-flight driving program, complete with a purpose-built EVOC (emergency vehicle operations center). He delegated the program development to his two senior instructors, Joe McDowell and Master Officer Terry Pearson. Note whom the duo did not consult for advice: other police driving instructors.

"The last person to ask about how to drive is a police officer," Pearson says. "I can call almost any department in the country and ask for the driver training expert, and I guarantee you, he'll know less about driving than my son."

An experienced racecar driver, Pearson's credentials back up his observation. So, exactly whose opinions did he solicit when he went shopping for input? A private pilot, Pearson already had some ideas, derived from long hours spent engaging in the loose banter known to pilots as "hangar talk."

"I'd noticed how much more I learned about flying from hangar talk than from theory," he says. "It's the same with driving." So, Pearson drew upon the experience of those who engage in the automotive equivalent of hangar talk: racers, designers, testers and engineers.

Next, he and McDowell conducted a task analysis. "We asked, 'What is it we do as police officers [when driving]?' Even our routine driving is different. Aside from handling the car, we have to communicate on the radio and anticipate driving conditions, all while constantly observing what is happening around us."

Then they studied departmental accident statistics and identified the frequent types. Backing into fixed objects, other cars and, on occasion, into other officers or pedestrians topped the list, despite an existing emphasis on proper backing procedure. This told them conventional instruction methods weren't working. An analysis revealed the curricula adequately covered the essentials; something else was wrong.

"When we analyzed backing collisions, we found that the officers involved were usually 3 10 years out of the academy," Pearson says. They'd all received the mandated training in proper backing. The conclusion: Sloppy driving habits were to blame.

After changing the backing procedure and method of instruction, and training officers via in-service courses, McDowell and Pearson encouraged compliance by adding accountability. Once trained, officers were informed that every backing accident would automatically send them back to the academy for a refresher course. Chagrined at the thought of doing penance, sitting in a classroom full of fuzzy-cheeked recruits, they got the message. The frequency of backing accidents dropped overnight from first place to a distant third.

Pulling out of the regional academy, the department began its own training program by renting track time at Summit Point Raceway some 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. The facility is owned by BSR, a shadowy outfit with a deserved reputation as one of the best at training in highly specialized driving escape-and-evasion, dignitary protection and deadly-force counter-terrorism in particular as well as advanced firearms instruction. BSR had developed the Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT), the art of tapping the quarter panel of a fleeing vehicle, sending it into a snap-spin and halting a pursuit, and had trained the FBI and Secret Service in PIT, as well as dignitary protection and counter-terrorism units from countries around the world. A decade later the "Cops" television series would introduce PIT to the viewing public, criminals included.

In 1985, after fine-tuning PIT, modifying it for police use and incorporating it into the force continuum, along with developing a training course plus a comprehensive list of restrictions and guidelines, the FCPD was the first in the country to add PIT to its newly revised curriculum but not without controversy. Predicting unfortunate consequences, some of the brass and plenty of officers scoffed at the notion of trying to bunt a fleeing car into the weeds.



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