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Police Pursuit Training is a Perishable Skill

There is no doubt that the occasional police pursuit training refresher course helps prevent collisions.  The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (CA POST) confirms that having officers complete additional post-basic academy police pursuit driver training programs consistently reduces collisions.  This goes a long way toward explaining the “Age Factor” in high-speed pursuit collisions: Advanced police driving is a perishable skill.

CA POST found that more than half of all officers with no additional post-academy pursuit training got into collisions.  If officers completed at least one additional driving program on a traditional closed course (also called an “EVOC“), crashes were reduced by 4 percent.  If instead of completing a traditional EVOC-based driving program, the officers instead completed a program that relied on a simulator (i.e., a “Law Enforcement Driving Simulators” or “LEDS“-based program), that reduction was doubled.  Finally, if officers used a “blended” program that included both simulators and a physical driving course, another 25 percent of crashes were prevented, for a net reduction of 10%.

Maintaining Perishable Skills with Regular High-Speed Pursuit Training Refreshers

As a baseline, consider a group of 652 California peace officers that CA POST studied.  All of these officers ultimately participated in some sort of collision.  Each officer had gone through both an EVOC-based police pursuit training program during basic training in California, as well as at least one additional EVOC program while working as law officers.  Roughly 15 percent of these officers had their first collision within one year of completing training.  More than half (54 percent) had a collision within three years of their EVOC training.  And repeated EVOC refreshers didn’t seem to have any cumulative effect:  More than 60 percent of officers who had completed two or even three EVOC pursuit training programs had a crash within three years. Roughly 16 percent had a crash within one year.

Simulation training, on the other hand, showed better results.  When CA POST looked at a group of 441 officers who had gone through an LEDS-based police pursuit training program during this period, they found that not even one percent had collisions within the first year following the program.  Only about 11 percent were in a collision within three years of LEDs training.  For officers who had finished two or three LEDs training courses, none had a collision within the following year, and only 14 percent within three years.

That said, nothing lasts forever. Even pools of officers who benefited from multiple LEDS refreshers saw a jump in collisions following the third or fourth year after their last training.  CA POST noted that “this tends to suggest that advanced driving (beyond basic training) is a perishable skill and in-service training via LEDS every 2 years significantly reduces the likelihood of collisions.”

Why LEDS Offer Superior Pursuit Training

CA POST noted in their 2009 report:

There is a sharp contrast between the LEDS-trained officers’ collision experiences and the EVOC-trained officers’ collision experiences. Exposure to EVOC training, alone, correlated with a comparatively high incidence of collisions relatively soon after training. The opposite was true with LEDS training. LEDS-trained persons exhibited a comparatively low incidence of collisions in the years immediately following training.

But why?

According to Peter Senge (noted MIT systems scientist and author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization): “Human beings learn best through first hand experience…but ‘learning by doing’ only works so long as the feedback from our actions is rapid and unambiguous.”

Driving a course, getting out of the car, and being told your time and where you nicked a cone is neither rapid nor unambiguous.  Attempting to negotiate a curve at high-speed in a simulator, feeling the car begin to lift and tilt, and seeing your virtual windshield shatter offers both rapid and unambiguous feedback indicating that you did not handle that corner well.

Additionally, according to a 2007 study from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, “a hormone released during emotional arousal ‘primes’ nerve cells to remember events by increasing their chemical sensitivity at sites where nerves rewire to form new memory circuits.” (source)

Even a decade ago, a simulation was realistic enough to trigger this mechanism.  Today, as LEDS simulation hardware and software becomes ever more physically and emotionally immersive, we can expect even more durable learning via simulation.

Finally, it’s important to remember that high-speed pursuit driving is a complex task with both physical and emotional components.  Both of those skill sets are perishable.  It’s not just physical driving skills that we need to periodically refresh; we need to re-condition emotional escalation response as well.

FAAC Incorporated is the leader in simulation training solutions. Our high fidelity simulators provide an unmatched level of realism that immersion, allowing users to experience real world conditions and events.  Find us online at faacdev.wpengine.com