Safety Behind the Wheel
with Travis Yates
SWAT vehicles: The police driving challenge
While it is expected that every law enforcement professional will drive a police vehicle from day one and throughout their career, it’s much less likely they will be asked to drive a tactical assault vehicle. Regardless, it is important for all in the profession to be familiar with these vehicles and some of the unique characteristics they bring to the profession.
A Tale of Two Types
Two of the most common alternative vehicles for tactical situations are armored vehicles and non-armored deployment vehicles. Armored vehicles go by a variety of different names but their use enables a tactical team to deploy close to a dangerous situation while repelling firearm attacks. These vehicles allow them to perform critical tasks and rescue operations in a safe, secure, and mobile fashion. Non-armored deployment vehicles are some of the most common used by tactical teams and are often economically feasible compared to other SWAT specialty vehicles. Taking the appearance of a commercial truck enables the element of surprise and its size can fit an entire SWAT team along with equipment to deploy instantly through the side or rear of the vehicle.
While both of these vehicle types are common, it doesn’t take long for those agencies that have them to understand that it is important to train in how to drive them, and use them.
Captain Paul Fields, Former SWAT Commander and coordinator of the 2009 NTOA National Conference, speaks about the unique characteristics of driving an armored vehicle.
“There are several things that you need to be aware of including multiple blind spots, a larger turning radius and the heavier weight of the vehicle not only will increase your stopping distance but you need to be careful in grass or soft ground that you do not get the vehicle stuck.”
Train the Whole Team
Captain Fields points out a topic that is of extreme importance: “Everyone on the team needs to be familiar with the vehicle. A situation may arise where anyone may have to drive it and for that reason I believe everyone on the team should have some level of training with it.”
Jeremy Johnson is the Director of International Operations for the Armored Group LLC, a manufacturer of rapid deployment vehicles used primarily by SWAT teams. The Armored Group’s Rapid Deployment Vehicle (RDV) is used to deploy an entire entry team in a stealth approach. While not armored, the RDV serves as an economic alternative for SWAT teams.
Johnson recommends that anyone purchasing one of these unique vehicles become very familiar with how they are manufactured and he often takes buyers through their assembly plant to point out the unique features of the vehicle.
Johnson states that “our deployment vehicle is custom lowered to give the teams a safer deployment out of the vehicle. While it drives very similar to a regular truck, there are numerous items one must be aware of.”
For example, the driver must be aware of the height of the vehicle and at the same time account for the lower nature of the vehicle. Another issue is that while the RDV is designed for SWAT teams to stand in, it is not recommended during the driving at normal speeds.
Johnson continues, “You need to ensure that your weight in the back is evenly distributed and a full team in the back can cause weight distribution issues so speeds need to be lowered and turning at high speeds is not recommended.”
Len Light is the President of Lenco Armored Vehicles and their armored vehicle called the BearCat is one of the most recognizable and sought after SWAT vehicles on the market.
“We give our customers an orientation. How does the vehicle work, what they can expect from it and we specifically caution them about high speeds and that it will take more time to stop the vehicle because of the weight.”
Light and his company recognize something very important. According to Light, “We are not in the tactics or driving business.”
That is left up to two companies that Lenco has exclusive contracts with: FTF Tactics focuses on the tactics of using the Bearcat such as vehicle set-up, ballistic capabilities, deployment considerations, and shooting platforms while Vehicle Dynamics Institute (VDI) trains in the driving of the vehicle.
Tony Scotti has conducted more training programs in more locations than any other private training institution in the world. For four decades, Tony has conducted training programs in more than 30 countries and trained students from 64 countries. On a personal note, he is a wonderful friend and advocate for the law enforcement profession and his training philosophy and expertise is continuing through the VDI.
VDI has developed a driver training program for armored vehicles called Mission Oriented Driving Skills (MODS).
According to Scotti, “Conducting a Mission Oriented Driving Skill (MODS) program requires an in depth understanding of vehicle dynamics and exercises design. Looking at the types of scenarios the students will encounter, trainers then must have the ability to analyze and test the vehicles to be used in the mission, develop driving exercises that replicate mission conditions and objectively measure the student’s capability to meet the mission objectives.”
Joe Autera is the President of VDI and he oversees the training for the Lenco BearCat. “The objective of this highly effective program is to ensure that tactical officers develop the driving skills and behaviors needed to mitigate potential accidents while responding to an incident or if required to perform emergency or evasive maneuvers. They learn to surgically maneuver an armored vehicle with unique handling characteristics and to overcome the psychological and physiological responses to stress that tend to degrade driver performance in real world operations.”
The manufacturers, SWAT members, and trainers all agree: driving SWAT vehicles pose unique challenges to law enforcement and training is the key to safety. Unique vehicles create unique challenges and with the help of dedicate trainers and manufacturers, those challenges will continue to be met and conquered.