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Developing An Emergency Vehicle Operations Course

Written by Ron Kelly

Does your agency have an Emergency Vehicle Operations training course? If not, could it be because of a lack of funds? How about a facility to present this type of training? Do the decision makers on the department understand the benefits of a good driver’s training program?

When you hire a new officer, you issue him a handgun, shotgun, OC spray, baton, handcuffs and TASER, and then you give him recurring training in the proper use and the agency’s policies pertaining to the use of these items. The same should apply to the high-liability emergency vehicle that he has been issued.

The total number of deaths from violent crimes added together will not equal the number of deaths from vehicular crashes on our roadways. An accident is defined as an unavoidable occurrence. A vehicular crash is an avoidable occurrence and is not an accident. Most crashes are from human error, not mechanical error.

The main purposes for all training in law enforcement are SAFETY and LIABILITY. The mere fact that officers drive vehicles 80% of their shifts does not certify that they are qualified or that they are a safe or competent emergency driver.

The fact that officers received driver’s training in the academy does not relieve your agency’s liability. “Deliberate indifference” and “vicarious liability” are common terms in lawsuits against departments.

The negligence in failing to train every person with each piece of equipment he is issued leaves an open door for disaster. A well-planned and conducted driver’s training program will reduce the number of vehicle crashes and the possibility of lawsuits and ensure the safety of your officers and others within your community.

A law enforcement officer’s day will go from hours of boredom to minutes of sheer terror or excitement within seconds. Training for this sudden change in human behavior is critical. The initial critical moments are in the vehicle, either in response to the call or in a vehicular pursuit.

The average officer will use his handgun once in 24 years of service to defend a life. Yet we spend more time training officers to use their guns than we do in operating a vehicle. The skills required to operate a vehicle under emergency conditions are both perishable and diminishing skills.

Just because we do more with the vehicle does not mean that we are doing it right. We as humans develop bad habits and skills with everything we do in life. Through training, we develop proven skills and techniques that ensure a better and safer quality of operations and life. If this training does not reoccur on a timely basis, we as humans will revert back to our old bad habits and practices.

The EVOC Program

The two most common reasons for a department not to have a driver’s training program are money and facilities. Training should be included in every budget and at a sufficient amount to cover all the areas of training in law enforcement. Several ways exist to establish these funds.

Your agency operates from funding from a tax base, and increasing the tax rate will not be favorably received. An alternative could be through legislation acts. Some states have imposed surcharges to traffic and other fines that are specifically earmarked for law enforcement training funds.

Some cities and county governments have the independent authority to impose additional surcharges in these same areas. Solicit your government entity to impose these surcharges or get them approved by a higher authority. The common terminology is known as “police officer training funds.”

Second, have your grant writer check for state and federal funds. Start with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and your state or federal department of transportation.

The third resource is your insurance company. Departments that are self-insured or fall under a state-funded insurance program are so only to a given dollar amount. If you dig a little deeper, you may find that there is a major insurance company that underwrites the major liabilities for the agency or ruling government entity. For example, one self-insured agency really just has a $10,000 deductible per vehicle, per incident.

Contact the major insurance carrier and present it with a training investment plan. The company may have one already in place. If it invests a little money in your training, it will save more money on liability payouts. If it doesn’t, then encourage it to establish a fund or provide professional-based training for your agency.

Another avenue for funding could come from donations. If you make a solid presentation to some businesses and civic groups in your jurisdiction on the need and benefits, you may just find the support you need. Check through your governing attorney on the legal issues of donations because there may even be a tax break for the donor.

The proven fact is that adequately trained personnel have fewer crashes with fewer injuries and deaths. Insurance carriers for law enforcement agencies will pay out more claims for daily nonemergency crashes. However, they will pay out more money for the claims involving emergency and pursuit crashes due to the severity of the damages, injuries and the deaths involved in these crashes. Ask the insurance carrier if it has a fund for this training.

As senior driving instructor for the Osceola County, FL Sheriff’s Office, I conducted a study of the agency’s crashes for a period of six months before and six months after the aggressive EVOC training program. Our “at-fault” crashes were reduced by 46% thanks to the training.

Our “not at-fault” crashes were reduced by 38%, which means our personnel followed their crash-avoidance training. Our deductible payouts dropped by 56%. Our underwriting carrier paid out fewer claims and less money on the average of claim. Our injuries were less debilitating, and we had fewer lost workdays. The training is well worth the investment.

Training Facilities

Be flexible and creative on what may be available facilities or areas for this type of training. If your agency has a designated driving pad, of course, use it. For those that don’t, it might be closer than you think. Does a neighboring agency have a site that you could borrow or rent? Maybe you could team up with a near agency that conducts the training.

What about a high schools parking lot or stadium parking lot? Is there an abandoned industrial complex or vacant shopping center near by? How about a local race track? What about a less used airport or a section of runways at an airport that could be used? Do you have a large shopping mall with a section of the parking lot that could be protected for the training? Maybe you have an undeveloped housing or subdivision area with roads that are not being used.

You will be surprised at the interest and support of the public if you conduct this type of training, so for maximum public relations, be sure to invite the media. Encourage them to report the purpose and benefits of the training.

Get started with an interoffice memo about the training need and liability. Sending it through your chain of command sets the stage and defers the liability to a higher authority. A request to your insurance carrier might also have the same effect.

Most of all, document your training. In a lawsuit against you and/or the agency, the attorney’s are guaranteed to ask for the agency’s policy and procedure manual and training records of the agency and officers involved.

Ron Kelley is a deputy sheriff with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office in Kissimmee, FL. He is assigned to the Training Division as a training coordinator and the senior driving instructor. Kelley is also an adjunct instructor for the Institute of Police Technology and Management (IPTM). He may be reached at KELLEYRONALD422@cs.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2006

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