Good pursuit training is about finding the right opportunities

A combination of interdisciplinary and isolation training yields the best training for pursuit drivers

By Chuck Deakins, Pursuit Trainer

Let’s begin with identifying what a “traffic-related” situation really is and what liabilities we may actually be able to reduce through training.  In some of the categorizing for LODD’s, a variety of situations are often grouped together such as “being ran-over” or “assaulted” by an automobile.  However, in real police work, we know that so many of our tactics, skills and strategies are interwoven during any situation we encounter.

A police car blocking a road (Image/iStock)
A police car blocking a road (Image/iStock)

What makes good driver training?

If I was to ask you what is your concept of driving training and what fundamentals you would include in your training outline, I might get quite a varied answer.  The most common answer would be to limit our thinking to the actual operation of the vehicle itself.  But, to be a good law enforcement/emergency response driver, one needs a plethora of skills such as the ability to:

  • judge a situation, consider a variety of options, choose a reasonable course of action
  • change a direction, escalate and de-escalate, and adjust to rapidly changing environment, react to stimuli
  • operate while injured
  • “multi-task” or at least manage multiple events coincidently
  • recognize the difference between accepted practices and actual written policies, guidelines and/or procedures
  • make a decision, control emotions, conquer fears, withhold prejudices, override personal bias’, comprehend radio transmissions, acknowledge communication, give directions,
  • coordinate multiple disciplines, personnel and equipment,
  • plan an attack and protect others
  • observe surroundings and recognize danger
  • react appropriately and be able to accurately recall and report on all of the above?

Oh, and did I forget to mention that you are also required to drive the car?

How does all this tie together?

The point is to be a good cop, you’ve got to have a multitude of skills operating at once. To be a good trainer, you have to take advantage of all the training opportunities afforded in any given situation, not simply see the situation at face value. Once we, as trainers and administrators, condition ourselves to miss the actual training opportunities, then we are able to really support “driving complacency”.

Take the skill of de-esclation as an example.  If all you are teaching in driving training is operation skills of the vehicle then how does one learn how to transition between an adrenaline flowing high-speed pursuit with life-threatening events into a one-on-one interaction with a distraught, confused, scared or simply “wise-burro” person that now wants to call “time-out” just before you get to them?

This transition and the skills involved in getting better at handling these situations are directly tied to the same skills required while operating the emergency vehicle under high-stress, ever changing, critical situations.  In other words, when you teach “de-escalation” within drivers training, the student is learning/practicing/developing “de-escalation skills” and will be better able to apply them to other forms of police work that we all know run together in the field and not necessarily are separate incidents.

As an example, when we control our breathing and heart rate in a high speed pursuit or critical response, it reduces the volume and intensity of our radio transmissions, increases our ability to make better decisions, raises our level of situational awareness and produces an improved command presence all while we are driving.  Following fundamental tenants such as having a clear idea of where we are going, scanning and assessing at all times, maintaining a safe space cushion, not using the radio while clearing intersections, confirming how fast we “think” we are traveling by glancing down at the speedometer and pre-managing our use of the siren, lights and seatbelt, reduces our workload and basically de-escalates us and the emergency situation we are experiencing.  Think of what makes the great professional athletes of our day, they just have it all together!

What about isolation training?

Before you criticize me too much for this concept of training, my concept does not exempt me from my belief in “isolation skills training”.  Much like a martial art, stick and ball sport, motorsport or basic animal training, isolation one skill such as the left hook and practicing it a thousand times before you step into a fight situation is of great value.  What I am referring to above, is when you take several different “isolation skill trainings” and put them all together in a higher training opportunity of actual or simulated application.

Too many times, since our basic academy training, have we been taught, conditioned and directed into a more simple level of training that isn’t exactly “isolation skills training” and isn’t exactly “practical application exercises/training”, we generally refer to it as “lecture”.

Lecture has always been a staple of our training for many required skills in policing probably due to time and money constraints; we have so many hours with so many instructors and so many students to train.  However, is this form of training really producing the most skilled professional to handle critical, high risk, possibly life threatening and super litigious situations such as high speed vehicle pursuits and operations?

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