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Complacency in Police Pursuit Training: Causes & Solutions

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What a tragic year 2016 was in law enforcement line of duty deaths involving ambush, violent
assaults and firearms. Depending on the source that you use, LODDs due to firearms are up a
staggering 61% to 83% over 2015, while overall LODDs are up 12% to 18% over 2015. It is a reminder
that we must all stay alert, plan ahead and keep vigilant with calls involving firearms. It is also a time
where we must rise above the media hype, maintain our professionalism and stay the course on
reducing “all” LODDs across this country.

When looking at the 2016 LODD statistics, it is notable that we continue to lose officers and
deputies in vehicle related incidents. The majority of those losses involve pursuits and emergency
response to calls for service. LODD numbers that are identified as “traffic-related” are significant. In
2016, we lost 51 officers/deputies to these incidents (up 11%) while we have lost 61 to firearms-related
(up 61%). In years past, we have lost almost as many, and in some cases more, officer/deputies to the
“automobile” incidents than to the “firearm” incidents and yet, our recognition of the safe and tactical
operation of the automobile is so much less than that of the firearm? It is a pitfall that many law
enforcement officers and deputies, tacticians, and trainers fall prey to—our own profession’s hype that
officer survival only involves physical conditioning, aggressiveness and a command of firearm skills.
But, in fact, a more accurate personal officer survival program should include driving skills, good
judgment and decision making skills, as well as mental conditioning and interpersonal skills that include
de-escalation in all situations.

Let’s talk a bit about the 51 officers and deputies that we lost in 2016 to traffic-related incidents
and what we as a profession are doing and training about it?

CHANGES IN POLICY AND CULTURE

In the old days, we practiced pursuits on graveyards and night shifts, where finding a pursuit
was like taking a lunch; if you wanted one, you took it. However, today the Chiefs and Sheriffs, along
with the community and Law Enforcement leaders have reduced the number of pursuits and
emergency responses through more restrictive policy, law changes and an overall cultural change.
There are basically three types of Police Pursuit policies in our country: the threshold policy, the
balance test, and the zero pursuit policy. All are authored with the best of intentions in mind; however
the real question is how is the policy actually followed in practice and is our training applicable to the
policy?

SHIFTING FOCUS IN TRAINING

Don’t take this the wrong way; I do believe it is the right thing to reduce unnecessary pursuits
and emergency responses in light of how dangerous they can be. The real question is are we still
training proper driving, judgment, decision making, and de-escalation skills required of the pursuits and
emergency responses that are still authorized and required of our profession. Look back at the
numbers again; the contemporary training focus is on the 61 firearms-related deaths, yet we still lost 51
officers and deputies to “traffic-related” incidents. As trainers, shouldn’t we respect driving as much as
we respect shooting!

If we can all agree, much like Below 100 advocates, that driving is a critical survival skill, then
let’s move forward and discuss how we are actually training to this end.

DRIVING TRAINING ISN’T JUST FOR BEGINNERS

In my experience in training throughout this country, I find a very similar mindset within both
administrative and line-personnel regarding driver training— it’s for the basic academy recruit and not
necessary for the intermediate or advanced officer or deputy because they drive every day.

It seems that most agencies only consider driving training after a collision has occurred wherein
the officer or deputy has been deemed to be at-fault or, in some cases, if the collision is considered to
be preventable. Even in these remedial cases, the remediation of being sent to a high-speed driving
class or local cone course often has nothing to do with the real cause of the collision. For example, an
officer or deputy may have been driving too fast for the current road conditions and was unable to stop
in time for an unexpected conflict and is then sent to a high speed pursuit driving course.

There is also almost no consideration given for close-calls as they are difficult to document and
quite frankly, who is going to call a peer out for driving too fast or passing when it was unsafe or not
wearing a seat belt? It’s not like they drove up too close on a hot call or put themselves between lines
of fire at a hostage situation or chose not to wait for a back-up when one was available and ended up in
a bad situation; or is it?

WHO IS DRIVING COMPLACENCY?

It is examples like the above where I see complacency towards driving and ask the question:
who is driving complacency?

First, are you as an operator of an official authorized emergency vehicle driving complacency by
taking your driving for granted, not wearing a seat belt, pushing the speed and most of all, believing that
you could stop on a dime at any time?

Second, are you the training officer, Sergeant or Administrator/Chief that is allowing
complacency by not requiring, providing or encouraging driving training that supports safe operation,
good judgment and proper decisions while operating an emergency vehicle? Would you not agree that
both groups are then driving complacently?

So, the point here is that we should examine what we are training for and how much time we
are dedicating to high liability, low frequency training? Are we looking at the facts and numbers to base
our decisions on? Have we separated “driving training” too far from force options, judgment, decisionmaking
and de-escalation training? If we’re losing almost as many officers to traffic-related incidents as
to firearms-related incidents, shouldn’t our driving training remain a high priority for us?

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