As 2010 comes to a close, it is a time of much reflection in regards to emergency vehicle operations (EVOC). I have paid close attention to this issue in the last fifteen years and I’ve finished years where I thought nothing changed or would change. I join many instructors in the day-to-day anxiety as yet another line of duty death is announced. We’ve seen far too many of those that occurred behind the wheel and I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t have my moments where I thought no one would listen. But 2010 was a groundbreaking year for EVOC. Yes, “bad” and “ugly” things continue to happen, but I’m pleased to say that there is much “good” being done. Our profession should be proud of the accomplishments and never waiver in the work that must continue.
Nothing came close to the excitement in 2010 as the upcoming “police package” cars were revealed. Ford, Chrysler, and Chevrolet all announced and showcased their new models and it became clear that what used to be dominated by just one manufacturer would have plenty of company. Each vehicle displayed the latest technological advances which will translate to additional safety and this year will be known as the jump from the old to the new.
There are more opportunities today than ever for agencies to get EVOC Training. While cost and availability have always been an issue, that has been mitigated by a more focused emphasis on training. Several states mandate ongoing EVOC Training and several more are following that lead. Wisconsin recently mandated specific training and they are ensuring that training is made available to all agencies. ALERT International has teamed up with several organizations including the IACP and IADLEST to provide Pursuit Policy Seminars across the country for free and there are several other options for free training being finalized as the year comes to an end.
Along with the opportunities come the locations and several state of the art driver training facilities were planned and launched in 2010. Progress continues on a new regional training center in San Diego and what looks to be a phenomenal facility for the Texas Department of Public Safety. It is daunting times for funding but many jurisdictions and communities have realized the importance a facility brings to their first responders and in 2010, there are more places than ever for the training to occur.
The traditional model of EVOC Training had almost been entirely “skill” related and while programs are continuing this important aspect of training, there has been a rapid movement toward the implementation of mental readiness in regards to driving. I recently observed a class put on by Sergeant Keith Wenzel of the Dallas Police Department. I watched as he spent four hours in a classroom giving his officers a dynamic presentation on EVOC and what you did with the steering wheel and brakes were hardly mentioned. It wasn’t that those aspects were not important, but as he analyzed the collisions at his department, the decision making aspect of driving played a much larger role than the skills needed to drive.
Sergeant Wenzel has joined a growing number of instructors that now know that what goes on between your ears is just as important with what goes on with your hands and feet.
The root issue of so many tragedies in our profession was not only discussed in 2010 but leaders are making a strong effort to change their respective organizations. Following three vehicle related deaths with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Sheriff Doug Gillespie took a bold stand and not only increased training but instituted several mandates including a cap on speed limits and severe sanctions for any officer not wearing a seatbelt.
This quick action may not have happened several years ago but today there is an emphasis on the importance of EVOC than we have ever seen. There is much to be done but the leadership shown by Sheriff Gillespie and others are sure to be a model well into the future.
Many agencies aren’t relying on the generic policies of old and the year brought a continued emphasis on EVOC Policy including Pursuit Policy. Whether the new policies include training or gives specific instructions on when to engage and continue a pursuit, it is clear that the goals are safety for both the officer and the community. Citing his “obligation to my officers”, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn modified their pursuit policy to limit pursuits to violent felony suspects only. Other agencies have realized the need to either modify policy or give training alongside of it. As Sheriff Gillespie said “policy is just that...policy” and without training and a focus on the culture, very little accomplishment will be seen.
National Organizations have taken notice and are working hard to partner with law enforcement to turn this epidemic around. The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) took a big stand in 2010 by offering courses on EVOC Instruction at their annual conference and meeting with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in an effort to be proactive in the line of duty deaths occurring due to driving. That effort is continuing and should compliment the recent efforts by the State of California’s enacted Vehicle Operations Training Advisory Council to reduce vehicle-related deaths across the country.
With all of the signs pointing to continued success in this field of training, the commitment by instructors, officers and administrators must be as strong as ever as we enter 2011. We still see far too many driving related deaths and injuries that did not have to occur. 2010 marks the 13th straight year that vehicle related incidents have been the number one cause for line of duty deaths and that number has increased from this time one year ago.
In 1973, we lost 269 officers in the line of duty with 155 of those being shot and killed. We are now averaging a 40 percent decline in deaths from those numbers, and in 2008 we lost just 42 officers to gunfire. Many heroes stepped up three decades ago to ensure that I and others are safer from felonious attacks. We leave 2010, in the middle of another war for the lives of America’s Finest and from what I observe, victory is near.