Researchers break police pursuit training programs into two broad categories: physical Emergency Vehicle Operations Courses (EVOCs) and computer-controlled Law Enforcement Driving Simulators (LEDS).
Comparing EVOC-based and LEDS-based Police Pursuit Training
EVOCs are the traditional “driving ranges,” with their orange cones and patch of standing water. These focus on the fundamentals and motor-learning related to proficient emergency vehicle piloting (e.g., braking and threshold braking, evasive maneuvering, slalom, skid control, etc.) Sophisticated computer-controlled LEDS address these same skills, but do so in an immersive virtual environment (like an Air Force flight simulator). By design, LEDS can focus more sharply on conditioning the reflexes while practicing split-second decision-making under stress.
The first volume of the Driver Training Study (released by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) in 2009) noted that “One significant finding is that LEDS training [in California] consistently shows positive effects (i.e., reduction in collisions); whereas, EVOC training does not exhibit the same degree of consistency with regard to collision reduction. However, a combination of these two training methodologies does appear to be more beneficial in terms of collision reduction than either (EVOC or LEDS) independently.”
According to POST, unsafe speed, right-of-way violations, and improper turning are far and away the top three factors leading to collisions that result in officer injury or death. But in their survey of California’s EVOC-based pursuit training programs, POST found that on most of the course trainees never exceed 60 mph—almost 40 percent of EVOC-based programs didn’t even top 50 mph. Similarly, nearly 40 percent of EVOC-based pursuit training programs reported that trainees spent five minutes or less at their maximum speed.
Cost and Safety Lead to EVOC Pursuit Training Shortcomings
Only about 40 percent of EVOC programs used “interference vehicles.” Even when instructors so use these vehicles, it’s hard to meaningfully emulate a real-world scenario. No instructor is going to risk lives by abruptly pulling out in front of a student practicing high-speed driving on a track. Trainees end up basing their choices on pleasing the instructor, rather than making true go-or-stop decisions.
Most officers face more “interference vehicles” on their drive home, and do so at higher speeds than they reached while practicing “high speed police pursuit.”
POST noted, “This is a potential area of concern. If speed is the primary cause of collisions and a factor in nearly all driving related deaths (and most injuries), but a large percentage of basic academy driving programs dedicate just 5 minutes (or less) to driving at speed, then the training in this area may need to be revised.”
Taking for granted that vehicle operation is easily the riskiest task a law enforcement officer faces each day, why do EVOC’s omit the most important contributing factors to vehicle accidents (speed and other vehicles)?
Cost and safety: Courses are expensive, the wear-and-tear on course vehicles is expensive, and driving fast is dangerous. Having multiple cars driving very fast on the same course compounds these cost and safety issues.
Cost Effectiveness of LEDS Police Pursuit Training
Conventional wisdom is that an LEDS-based pursuit driver training solution is inherently more expensive than setting up some cones in a cordoned-off parking lot. This stands to reason: An EVOC can be as simple as a large parking lot and a stack of cones; LEDS solutions are complex, multi-computer simulations.
For example, in their 2002 preliminary report, the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) noted that they were very pleased with their new LEDS-based training regimen, but were wary of costs. TAC was certainly enthusiastic about the system’s capabilities. “The unique aspect of simulator-based training is that you can totally destroy a car in a collision, but with a click of the mouse you are back in business and no one is injured.” The flexibility built into a LEDS solutions wasn’t just impressive to watch play out on the screen; it was also reducing accidents.
But they worried LEDS solutions would prove expensive: “Simulator based training is not the least expensive method of training and the initial cost is a concern, but as more drivers are trained the cost per participant becomes more in line with other forms of driver training.”
This isn’t necessarily the case. LEDS-based police pursuit training solutions often prove cheaper than EVOCs over time: In their 2009 study POST noted that “based on the best information available, POST has expended less per student for LEDS training than for EVOC training–despite the fact that LEDS expenditures included six additional years and capital expenditures whereas EVOC did not.”
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