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August 24, 2009
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Travis Yates Police Driving:
Safety Behind the Wheel

with Travis Yates

EVOC training best practices, revisited

In EVOC Training Best Practices, we discussed the importance of mandatory training and in particular, whether or not that training mirrors reality. Does it incorporate the biggest issue that we are currently dealing with in law enforcement: decision making?

Since that article was published we all have seen firsthand some of the difficulty in changing the culture of how we train officers. If we aren’t careful we can get caught up in the how and the why and forget about our ultimate goal: providing training to our law enforcement professionals that will give them a safer environment as they work. EVOC is at the heart of that training and we must continue to evolve our training styles and techniques if we hope to reverse the troubling trend we are observing in our line of duty deaths and injuries.

Speed
We’ve previously discussed the importance of interference vehicles, but what about training at speed. Unfortunately, many agencies do not have a high-speed facility and they are left with training at low speeds in parking lots or only in a classroom setting. While I am sensitive that many good agencies have limited resources and I have always advocated that “doing something” is much better than “doing nothing,” there have been some tragedies in recent years that have changed my mind about training at speed.

It simply does not make sense to train our officers at low speeds, when on “day one” after the training or academy they will be driving in excess of 65 mph, with the potential of speeds much greater if they are involved in a pursuit or emergency response.

EVOC instructors and their agencies have the responsibility to train their students at speed prior to them having to do it on duty. The Texas Department of Public Safety did not train at speed for several years due to the lack of a facility. They have recognized that driving fast is a reality on day one and they have built a facility to give this training to their Troopers. While you may not have a high speed driving track where you can conduct high speed pursuit training, almost every jurisdiction has someplace that they can let their officers experience high speeds in a controlled environment. We should do everything we can to give our officers training at the same speeds that they will be required to perform while on duty.

Field Training Officers
No amount of training in an academy can replace the value of field training and the officers that have the task to teach rookies after their formal education is completed. A Field Training Officer that displays poor and unsafe driving habits can literally kill any amount of EVOC training you have given a rookie.

Are you seeing your first year officers having more traffic related incidents and collisions than others in your agency? If so, you may need to address the field training they are receiving. Is driving a major portion of what the rookies are evaluated on in their daily activity? Do your FTO’s know what you are training the rookies in the academy? The answer to these questions will tell you whether your FTO’s need to take a similar class as to what is being offered to those they are tasked to train. In short, how can an FTO properly evaluate the driving of those they are training if they themselves do not have the same training?

San Diego Police Lieutenant and EVOC instructor John Leas describes the implementation of FTO’s in your training program as an “excellent concept.”

Leas continues: “As part of our FTO Program, Driving Ability is a Performance Anchor that covers: Vehicle Code and Department Procedure, Defensive Driving, Use of Lights and Siren, Pursuit Procedures, Police Equipment Collisions and Patrol Techniques. Having these as part of the FTO Program takes the basic academy EVOC message out into the field to be properly applied in real situations. This is a great follow-up to basic training.”

Alternative Training
Our focus is on driving but what about the other dangerous behaviors that plague law enforcement on the roadway. Are you training your officers on a regular basis on how to direct traffic, how to wear their reflective vest (ANSI Level II), and how to use tire deflation devices? These and many other activities have traditionally not been addressed but with one officer on average being killed a month after being struck in the roadway, the wait must be over to train in these roadway activities.

While most EVOC programs discuss the importance of vehicle inspections, I fear that we and our agencies do not take the stance we should on this important aspect of officer safety. I am just as guilty at this and experience has shown me that this is one of the most important aspects of what we train others in. Once again, what good is knowing the proper techniques of driving if our tires fail because we have not maintained the vehicle appropriately?

Thomas Witzcak, Master EVOC Instructor with Fox Valley Technical College (Wisconsin) discusses the importance of teaching vehicle inspections: “Our vehicle inspection is very detailed. Students are required to make a vehicle inspection each and every time they come to the driving facility. Our inspections are broken down by several categories including Tires, Wheels, Engine, Driver, Exterior and Interior. We have also put together a video and we require our students to watch that and mirror what they see when they perform their own vehicle inspections.”

San Diego Police Lieutenant John Leas does not mix words when discussing vehicle inspections: “The goal is to identify a properly equipped vehicle that will safely perform during performance driving and that offers the operator confidence in his or her equipment. A proper pre-shift vehicle inspection will also inform the driver of issues such as fresh damage, broken suspension components, as well as unsafe tires and brakes. A vehicle inspection should be taught, tested, and practiced at the basic level.”

How We Train
How we train our nation’s police officers is just as important as what we train them. Just as you would never give a student a revolver at the range and then issue them a semi-automatic weapon when they leave, we should never have an officer drive a different vehicle in training than what they will be driving on the street. 

Witzcak discusses this specific issue: “From a liability standpoint, we strongly encourage departments to make sure their officers are trained in all the vehicles they will operate on the roadway. Many departments have multiple types of vehicles. We recommend if you have a fleet of Fords and Chevy's, you need the officers to be trained in both. If you have front wheel and rear wheel drive vehicles, you need for the officers to be trained in both. This also includes SUVs and vans.”

This should also be expanded to include a new car that an officer may get. If you are driving a car several years old with 100,000 plus miles on it and you are suddenly given a new car, that car will drive differently, even if it is the same model. Once again, we would never give an officer a new gun or piece of equipment without training, why would we do any different if a vehicle is involved. Especially if you knew that for 11 years in a row, vehicle related incidents were the leading cause of death to law enforcement professionals.

Should instructors train from inside the car or from the tower? This is routinely done both ways and both opinions will likely have valid reasons to do what they are currently doing but I simply believe that we lose too much to give up the inside of the vehicle while training. Yes, there are a lot of things you can observe by watching a car drive but if you are instructing the driver, shouldn’t you be observing their driving behaviors inside the car? It is the only way I know how to do it and the preferred method of instruction for the vast majority of instructors.

While how to train can be controversial, nothing comes close to the issue of what to do with cones? If a student hits a cone is that a failure or simply a point reduction?

Sergeant Rich Maxwell with the Colts Neck Township (NJ) Police Department and the former President of ALERT International describes his opinion on hitting cones as “zero tolerance.” Maxwell claims that “in order to qualify on our course the student must complete the event within the designated time and not hit any cones and there are a lot of cones.”

While cones are not the same as the realism of parked cars and real obstacles, they serve a very important purpose in EVOC Training and if we treat them as realistic obstacles and barriers, we should cease driving and fail any student that hits one. That is easy to say if you have an agency that will support you in failing a student for driving. It is even easier to say if for you it is about principle and what is right instead of what the boss may think is correct.

Tradition
No article on “Best Practices” be complete without a discussion about tradition. I love the “tradition” that comes with Law Enforcement. The equipment that has been used for decades, the ceremonies, the uniforms, and knowing that those who wore the badge before me experienced some of the same joys and pains that I have. But along with that storied tradition comes the bad part of it.

If we rely on tradition to drive our safety and training we are asking for major trouble. What we did last year or last decade in training to protect us may not necessarily be what can protect us today. When it comes to best Practices we must continue to give our officers the best training out there to make their jobs safer. This takes vigilance, accountability, and a lot of hard work.

The trend out there is clear — now it is time to work!


About the author

Captain Travis Yates commands the Precision Driver Training Unit with the Tulsa, Okla. Police Department. He is a nationally recognized driving instructor and a certified instructor in tire deflation devices and the pursuit intervention technique. Capt. Yates has a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the owner of www.policedriving.com, a website dedicated to law enforcement driving issues and the Director of Ten-Four Ministries, dedicated to providing practical and spiritual support to the law enforcement community. You may contact Travis at Policedriving@yahoo.com.





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