The LAPD also combines classroom training with practical application behind the wheel and with driving simulators. "The simulators allow officers to experience the effects of their decisions without risk to themselves or the public," Reid explains. "Officers are placed in simulated pursuits that require decision making based on the Balance Test, and are then given the opportunity to review their pursuit, the decisions they made and the results of those decisions."
Besides 40 hours of academy police vehicle drivers' training, the LAPD trains whenever the make and models of the vehicles change, and that's on both the new and the existing fleet vehicles.
In Florida, the state requires 48 hours of driver training in the academy. The Orange County Sheriff's Office gives 24 hours of training before new hires are allowed to operate an agency vehicle. "Beyond that, every deputy receives eight hours of training every other year in law enforcement vehicle operations," Gillespie says. "Training is done in the classroom and on the driving range, but the time deputies spend driving is maximized."
Classroom training only covers policy review and briefing on the day's activities. "During the 2003-2004 training cycle, the emphasis was pursuit decision making, the dynamics of stress on driving and practical application of tactics," he notes. "During the 2005-2006 training, we progressed to actual practical exercises involving vehicle pursuits, felony stops, deployment of Stop Sticks and other tactics."
His advice for other departments is to teach officers to drive by letting them drive. "Take the time, and expense, to train relevant and realistic scenarios they are likely to encounter in their tactical operations," Gillespie says. "Driving is a perishable skill which needs to be updated regularly. Poor judgment, bad habits, new equipment and revised policy are just some of the reasons to make sure each and every one of your deputies/officers has regular driver training."
He concludes, "Make the training staff maintain professional credentials and stay up-to-date on trends, case law and local training efforts. With the ever-increasing trend of law enforcement officers being hurt and killed in and around their vehicles, it's the responsibility of all members to take driving seriously. Always keep foremost: 'You can't assist if you don't arrive.' "
Kay Falk is an independent writer with more than 18 years of experience in writing for trade publications. She can be contacted at (920) 563-1511.