By Jennifer Buske Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, November 4, 2010
Members of numerous Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies will soon have a new training facility designed to help prepare them for everything they encounter on Virginia roads.
|Prince William police officer Erika Hernandez practices a pursuit in a driving simulator at the new Emergency Vehicle Operations Center. (Photos By Gerald Martineau For The Washington Post)|
The Prince William County Criminal Justice Academy and the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy, plan to open the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center in Nokesville next month to 23 law enforcement agencies and their 3,300 sworn police and sheriff’s officers. The roughly $16 million project includes classrooms, driving simulators and an emergency response course, in which law enforcement personnel can practice such things as high-speed driving and maneuvering a vehicle through hazardous road conditions.
“When looking at the number of officers killed in the line of duty, usually half are related to automobile collisions or standing on the side of the highway,” said Bill O’Toole, executive director of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy. “What excites me most about this project is the training we can now provide — the training that is critical to the safety of our officers and other motorists.”
For more than 30 years, police and sheriff’s officers in most of Northern Virginia have completed their required driver’s training at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, law enforcement officials said. A few years ago, track officials said they were considering selling the property. It was the perfect opportunity, law enforcement officials said, to look at building their own training center.
“I am very pleased that this long-term regional project is now a reality,” Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane said. “We have been very fortunate for many years to have had access to the Old Dominion Speedway. That track served us well, but the new [center] offers enhanced opportunities and will serve the region for years to come.”
The center’s 90-acre property off Public Safety Drive is jointly owned by the Northern Virginia and Prince William academies and was purchased in the 1980s, O’Toole said, noting it is next to the Prince William academy’s firearms training area. Although Fairfax County has its own training center, the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center will be used by most of the other law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia, including those in Alexandria, Manassas, Manassas Park and Fairfax City and in Loudoun and Arlington counties. The George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police will also use the center.
O’Toole said every agency is contributing to the cost of the center.
Officials said police officers have to complete about 50 hours of training behind the wheel. The center includes a 1.1-mile circular track for high-speed driving and an area that simulates a neighborhood, with traffic lights, stop signs and a railroad crossing. Officers will be taught steering techniques and how to skid, maneuver into tiny spots and master hazardous road conditions.
A section of “highly polished concrete” becomes slippery when water is added and creates the effect of driving on ice, O’Toole said. The section was designed to recycle the water used and collect and utilize rainwater.
“As first responders, we are of no value to those in need if we don’t get there, and that’s why we place such emphasis on learning those skills in a controlled environment,” said Capt. Fred Miller, director of the Prince William Criminal Justice Academy. “The venue we were using wasn’t designed for this capacity, so this will give us the opportunity to do more training in this critical skill.”
O’Toole said road training is critical because patrol officers spend the majority of their time in cars. An officer has a higher chance of being in an accident than being shot or assaulted, he said, and a lot of collisions happen during routine patrolling.
“The safety of the public and police officers requires that officers be skilled emergency vehicle operators,” Deane said. “There are times when it is essential that officers exceed speed limits and use specialized tactics to apprehend dangerous individuals or respond to high-risk calls. At those times, experience and skills gained through Emergency Vehicle Operations Center training [are] essential.”
O’Toole said the goal is the first recruiting class to enter the center early next year. Already-sworn officers will also use the center over the years for continuing education courses and to sharpen their skills.
“This whole [center] is really a dream come true for us,” said Prince William police 1st Sgt. Susan Crosbie, the skills training manager at the center. “This is exactly what we wanted and exactly what we need to practice the training we need.”
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