An Alameda County Sheriff Department Training Manager provides a description of his department’s situation pre- and post-simulator training
Years ago, Law Enforcement was noticing an extremely large number of fatalities due to on-the-job situations. Only ½ of 1% involved someone being shot in Northern California. At that time, about 70% of those fatalities involved motor vehicle collisions. P.O.S.T. performed a study and introduced a new program known as E.V.O.C; Emergency Vehicle Operations Course. Prior to this, the only vehicle training any officer received was in the academy, once in their career.
While it was initially voluntary for every agency in the state to conduct this type of training, the numbers did not go down sufficiently. Many agencies were prohibited from conducting this recommended in-house training due to staffing issues and cost.
About 7 years ago, Penal Code Section 13519.8 was introduced into law to mandate several perishable skills be taught on a regular basis, including EVOC. P.O.S.T. performed another study and found the number of vehicle accidents, and fatalities or injuries resulting from those accidents, had fallen to about 46%. This was a remarkable reduction in major collisions, but 46% was still unacceptable. Further studies found that the reason those collisions occurred was not related so much to a skill based training curriculum, but more importantly, had a direct connection with judgment and decision making. Unless officers experienced something that had the potential to harm them, affect their job or their paycheck, it was of no consequence. Since simulators have been introduced as part of the P.O.S.T. mandated perishable skill training set, collisions have dropped drastically.
In the past, the decision to terminate most pursuits was made by supervisors monitoring the pursuit. Today, most pursuits are terminated by the officer through recognition of real hazards and safety issues learned by experiencing them in the simulator. The officers have become more aware, having had a personal and similar experience in the simulators and having been exposed to the result of a crash, which would have taken their life had it occurred in a real vehicle. This program doesn’t speak to their eyes and ears, but to their hearts and values.
Conversely, it has made their behind-the-wheel performance (skill based training) on our track far more improved based on correct lane position, entry into intersections, visual horizon, smoothness on the controls of the car, and has had a marked effect on their ability to remain calm in pursuits. On-the-track and simulation modes of training have become critical parts of a comprehensive training program. Simulation has enhanced the officers’ abilities, and the time required for us as instructors to train them has dropped markedly.
When teaching specialized maneuvers such as the P.I.T. (Pursuit Intervention Technique), forward and reverse 180’s, Box 90’s, and other tactics, the officers are prepared for success on the track because the simulations have already developed their skill-set. What used to take 2 days to teach on the track can now be accomplished in ½ a day, having been prepped in the simulators. This also has had a marked influence on the costs associated with maintenance and damage to the cars due to inexperienced handling. The simulators are a mandatory precursor to any dignitary protection program we offer, and allow us to place the students into situations that would be far too dangerous on a real roadway. We can build any scenario we desire, answering instantly the “What If” questions the students have at the touch of a few buttons.
Also, to run a track program, we use 6 instructors, 12 cars, and go through at least 10 tires daily. The damage to the cars range from floating the valves, to breaking ball joints, burning up transmissions, destroying rear ends, blowing the rear seals on the axle, and the list continues into thousands of dollars required to run and maintain a track-based program. These costs are necessary to keep our students safe. However, it only takes two instructors to provide simulator training without the related costs and abuse of our vehicles.
By using both our track and the simulators, half of our operational costs have gone away, the level of training has risen exponentially, and the student/officers go home at the end of the day, their homes and jobs secure, due to making correct decisions and feeling comfortable in all situations.
I have taught over 16,000 students in the last 7 years, which includes officers, firemen, commercial drivers, teen drivers, elderly drivers, and every facet of driver you might imagine. I cannot imagine teaching without the simulators, no more than a carpenter could build a house without a hammer and a saw. We look to the future and continue to break new ground via scenarios, which are adapted to current problems that our drivers face on a daily basis. Short of direct mind transfer, only available on “Star Trek”, simulation is the best method of transferring information from the classroom to the street.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office
Regional Training Center