Preliminary data for 2018 shows 38 Law Enforcement Officer lives have been lost just to traffic-related incidents. Two of those 38 were in Washington State. Police Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) training is a powerful tool in helping to reduce these numbers. The Auburn Police Department (APD) just completed their annual EVOC Training at Pacific Raceways.
Improving Auburn Officers’ Driving Skills
For four days, 11 APD instructors trained ten classes of five to six officers. Every officer, from the Chief to the newest recruit, is required to take APD’s EVOC training. Though APD requires officers to complete training every three years, the goal is every two. APD is one of many local agencies to utilize Pacific Raceways during the fall and winter months to facilitate driver training.
APD’s EVOC trainers received training from Washington State Patrol. APD continually updates EVOC trainer education to ensure officers receive the most effective EVOC training. Most recently Traffic Sergeant Brian Williams attended two EVOC Trainer courses. Williams stated that “Agencies in Washington that are active in their EVOC programs are well ahead of the curve regarding [EVOC] training. Both being proactive for training and policy for pursuits.”
Civilian and officer safety is the primary goal of APD’s EVOC Training. The EVOC Training class consists of six portions: safety instruction, slow-speed course, high-speed course, PIT maneuvers, spike strip deployment, and scenario-based training exercises. Each section of the training addresses real-world situations officers may encounter.
All classes begin with a safety instruction presentation, reviewing department motor-vehicle policies; as well as expectations during training. The class then splits to train on the slow-speed, high-speed or PIT maneuvers courses.
The slow speed course reinforces basic driving knowledge. The course’s design helps to instill essential driving qualities such as vehicle awareness, set-up, and knowing the four corners of the vehicle. Reviewing general skills ensures astute maneuvering while in the field.
Nearly all APD’s cruisers are now all-wheel drive Ford Explorers. This change assists in vehicle handling as the mechanics are more responsive. With three “hills” in Auburn, having all-wheel-drive vehicles is beneficial during inclement weather.
On the high-speed course, technique over speed is emphasized. This course teaches vehicle control, proper braking, and acceleration, and continues to reinforce vehicle awareness. Skills taught on the course are evasive in nature, meaning that officers are being trained to use their skills to avoid a collision. To pass this level of instruction, officers must complete two laps around the track without hitting any cones.
Initially, the instructor is the driver and takes the officer around the track slowly to orient them to the course. The instructor then observes the officer driving from within the vehicle. Riding inside the car allows for training of proper hand placement, steering and vehicle control.
After observing as a passenger, the instructor drives the course next to the officer in a secondary vehicle. From this vantage point, the instructor can monitor, comment and correct the officer’s driving if an area of concern is observed. Additional instructors are strategically positioned along the track. These instructors have a different perspective to assess vehicle maneuvering throughout the course.
Pursuit Ending Intervention Skills
Properly placed spike strips can put a quick end to high-speed chases. Spike strips deflate the tire in a controlled air leak, limiting the vehicles speed. During EVOC training, officers review policies on spike strip deployment. The proper deployment and handling of spike strips are discussed and practiced.
Originating from the California Highway Patrol, the PIT maneuver, or Pursuit Intervention Technique is a viable tactic utilized to end a pursuit safely. When initiating a PIT, the pursuing officer uses their vehicle to force a fleeing car to abruptly turn sideways and stop. A PIT maneuver requires precision in its application. When executed properly, a PIT results in very little damage and the officer and suspect will have no injuries.
During EVOC training, officers work with multiple instructors to practice Pursuit Intervention Techniques in a controlled environment. As police vehicles are publicly owned assets, only out of commission vehicles are utilized for PIT training.
Application of EVOC Training Skills
Scenarios are started once all officers have passed the required level of instruction and obtained a familiarity with the course. Officers utilize and apply what they’ve learned during these scenarios. One instructor portrays dispatch, while others act as bystander vehicles and another as a possible suspect vehicle. Every scene differs, but the primary officer must follow the pattern of the course while responding to a mock call for service. The student officers are required to respond to the call like any other call while on duty. They are expected to follow policy and determine the proper course of action to ensure a safe ending for the suspect, the officers, and the citizens involved.
APD permits officers to utilize some discretion in deciding pursuit situations. In determining the start or termination of a pursuit, an officer must do the risk-benefit analysis, determining the need for apprehension against the need to protect the public. An officer must consider all factors of the pursuit before engagement or the continuation of a pursuit. Mock calls run during training help officers experience pursuit situations in a controlled environment. These scenarios help hone their confidence and judgment.
Some scenarios call for multiple officers, requiring active and effective teamwork and communication. Following training and policies ensures a safe and successful outcome. In training officers are taught to remain ‘on-channel.’ Being ‘on-channel’ means effectively controlling their breathing, their voice, and their response to the situation so that fellow officers involved can adequately assist. Training allows officers to correlate actions, giving them a mental Rolodex of responses. Officers are advised that going ‘off-channel’ puts other officers in danger as they must guess and improvise when seeking out a safe resolution.
Line of Duty Deaths are not the Cost of Doing Business
APD is one of the many agencies throughout the country to participate in the Below 100 initiative. Started in April 2010, Below 100 is a nonprofit organization with the mission to reduce law enforcement line of duty deaths to below 100 for the first time since 1944. Below 100 developed from a statement and evolved into the program it is today. Speaking with fellow officers, Major Travis Yates of the Tulsa Police Department said, “If we would just slow down, wear our seatbelts and clear intersections, we could get our line of duty deaths to Below 100 a year.”
Since 2008, 364 officers have died in line of duty car accidents. 63 officers died motorcycle crashes.
Below 100 works to influence law enforcement culture by providing training and raising awareness to identify leading causes and current trends in preventable line of duty deaths and injuries. Below 100 classes are designed to inspire officers to get involved in officer safety. The materials speak to the backstories of case studies and address how to implement safety changes. Instructors, like Williams, receive additional hours of training.
John Bennett, Below 100 Secretary, explained that Below 100’s training isn’t teaching officers new information. The training focuses on changing the perspective of what they already know. “We need to change the culture. Cops hate change, but also hate the way things are,” said Bennett.
Officers who have taken Below 100 training have communicated behavioral changes because of what they learned. Bennett shared that there have been cases where that change saved the officer’s life.
Part of eliminating preventable line of duty deaths is EVOC training. Bennett explained the importance of EVOC training in reaching the Below 100 goal. “You’re learning how the patrol car handles at higher speeds. How easy it is to lose control. You learn that when speed goes up, reaction time and survivability go down. EVOC training helps officers understand what happens to the brain under just a little bit of stress. It helps to understand that shift from thinking to reacting,” said Bennett.
Remembering What’s Important Now
Officers were continually reminded throughout training that ‘you’re no help if you don’t get there.’ The Below 100 tenet of What’s Important Now (WIN) helps officers focus on being present in that moment. Having proper situational awareness ensures officers make informed decisions, putting civilian and officer safety first.
If an officer is going so fast that they’re in front of their sirens, their focus is likely on the call and not their surroundings. This lack of attention can result in a fatality accident, as recently happened with a Pennsylvania State Police officer responding to a call.
“The absolute most important thing is to get to the call safely. If you crash, not only do you not get to the call, but you’ve created a secondary emergency that takes from resources,” explained Bennett.
Beyond just motor-vehicle skills, EVOC training engages and fine-tunes officers’ decision-making. The knowledge and skills learned make EVOC training an invaluable tool for citizen and officer safety. APD’s EVOC training benefits not only the department but all of Auburn.