Nov 4, 2010

Home on the range: cruiser control

This is an ongoing blog where I shadow the 19 Basic Law Enforcement Training Program cadets from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy through some of their training. Start reading about the defensive tactics training here. Read about the firearms training here.

(Objects in mirror are chasing you)

Cruiser control

Emergency Vehicle Operation and Control (EVOC) is just what it sounds like: being able to control your vehicle. The idea wasn’t so much to learn how to drive at high rates of speed, but to be able to control the vehicle as efficiently as possible.

The EVOC instructors for the week I was there included Lead Instructor Trooper Jack Dow of the Maine State Police Troop K, Sgt. John O’Malley of the Scarborough Police Department, Trooper Adam McNaughton of the Maine State Police Troop D, Trooper Marc Poulin of the Maine State Police Troop D, Sgt. Jason Nein of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, and Trooper Bernard Branette of the Maine State Police Troop K.

Throughout the week the cadets have to be able to put a cruiser through various different maneuvers at low, medium or high speeds. On Oct. 14, they were working on braking turns, where they come into a turn going around 50 miles per hour.

Other maneuvers include a serpentine, where cones are set up in something of a slalom formation 100 feet apart and the cadets have to maneuver between them at 40 mph without touching a cone. The evasive maneuver is when the cadet is driving with an instructor and they come to a point in the course where they have to turn left or right, and about 20 feet before the cones obstructing the path the instructor calls out “left” or “right” and they have to turn the proper direction. Occasionally, the instructors won’t call out and it’s up to the cadet to still avoid the obstacles. There is also a low-speed precision obstacle course where they have to move the cruisers through a tight network of cones.

When the cadets are tested it’s based on how quickly they made it through and how many cones they hit. This is to add the element of stress to the cadets to add stress to the situation to emulate the stress the cadets will face when they are out on the road.

(Inches to spare)

There’s also the reverse serpentine, where they do the same as the serpentine, except slower and backwards. The same is true for the reverse obstacle course.

The instructors explained that the courses are designed to simulate actual driving experiences. The evasive maneuver is to simulate an animal or person running out into the roadway.
“These are diminishing skills,” said Sgt. O’Malley. If you don’t use them every day they go away.”

He noted that inclement weather doesn’t change how you have to handle the cruiser, but at what speeds things can go out of control.

“Everything is the same, but you just start to slide at a low speed in rain and snowy conditions,” he said.

They have to do all of these maneuvers during the day and at night.

They were also instructed in the use of spike strips (also known as spike mats) and how they are deployed and removed during a chase. They used spike-less mats to get used to tossing them out and pulling them back.
(Spike strips going out)

(Spike strips being run over, spike-free, of course)
The night I was there the cadets also had to attempt a pursuit during the day and at night. This involved some of the instructors driving past the cadets and doing something that would be a moving violation (donuts in the road, swerving off pavement) and then have the cadets pursue them. The cadets are trained to use the cruiser correctly, meaning calling in on their radios, activating their blue lights, staying on the legal side of the road, and slowing down for stop signs and yield signs (Sgt. O’Malley explained that if using the lights and siren, police don’t have to come to a complete stop, but they have to be able to in the case of oncoming traffic or other obstacles in the road).

(The cruiser with the smoking tires is the "bad guy")

The importance of being able to use the cruisers efficiently is made clear, as someone without this kind of training will be putting a vehicle through quite a beating if they don't know what they're doing.

There's a lot that goes into these maneuvers, from when to speed up to when to hit the brakes,which varies depending on the speed that the cruiser is going. What looks easy in the movies takes a great deal of skill and understanding in real life.

"It gives you a better understanding of how the suspect drives and a better understanding of what [the other driver] is going through and makes us much more prepared than any civilian," said Cadet Derek Abbott, a patrol officer for Portland Police Department. "The overall tactical aspect [of EVOC] is unique. High speed pursuit is challenging ... if there's one thing this week has taught me is humility."

One thing that I noticed in the scant amount of time I was able to spend with the cadets is how quickly they were able to pick up these skills. One could literally hear the difference as they learned how to control their cruisers at decently high speeds (50 mph) as they took a turn. In the early morning, there was the occasional tire squeal, but by late morning to early afternoon they were rounding the corners without so much as a whisper.

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