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Cruise Control

Knowing when to put the brakes on vehicle pursuits can save dollars, reputations and lives.

January 01, 1996  |  by Forrest Billington

Interacting With Videos

Another technological innovation came in the late 1980s in the form of interactive computer-based video train­ing. This system, which utilizes laser discs, computer graphics and branch­ing scenarios, promised consistent training for officers at locations with­out formal training facilities; it also provided another medium for existing training centers. Financed by POST, the system's courseware was also developed by POST, the SMEs of the driver training committee, and the pri­vate firm, General Physics.

In 1993, POST reimbursed every law enforcement agency in California that purchased the hardware needed for the course. At the same time, agencies were also eligible for reim­bursement for a satellite dish system to receive broadcasts-or "telecours­es"-from POST. These telecourses, which covered a variety of topics developed by law enforcement experts, were broadcast for view­ing, recording and dis­semination at the agen­cy's convenience.

To make classroom learning more effective, POST began investigat­ing "smart classrooms," which featured comput­er-based training. These presentations were de­livered by LCD projec­tion televisions and allowed student input via individual keypads. San Bernardino County again took the lead by purchasing two complete classrooms and a design station for their EVOC Training Center, pioneering the use of this technology in law enforce­ment nationwide.

At Your Fingertips

 This system, called Respondex, took all of the traditional audio-visual aids used by instructors and put them into a single learning tool. Slides, over­heads, charts, graphs, text, animation, narration, music, board work, sketches-anything an instructor could want-was available at their fin­gertips via a remote control.

When a segment needs to be reviewed, it can be cued by the computer, thus creating a seam­less presentation.

Respondex was originally designed for the U.S. Naval Academy and has since been marketed throughout the coun­try. An important component is the keypad feature, which requires the student to answer questions at key learning points during the presentation. The computer tabulates the answers and presents them by percent­ages on the screen, utilizing a bar chart, for immediate feed­back to the instructor.

This system has increased the reten­tion rate of material by 20 percent in 20 percent less time. POST has provid­ed a grant to Santa Rosa College to purchase and evaluate a classroom like the one in San Bernardino.

It's clear that California law enforcement has not been sitting this one out and has actively been addressing the issue of pursuit driv­ing for many years. But one primary problem in this area is refresher training for officers after they've graduated from the academy.

The problem is that driver training is very expensive, good facilities are few and training dollars are short. While inroads are being made, only mandato­ry refresher training on a regular basis will ensure that California's officers are properly equipped to meet today's and tomorrow's driving problems.

Confronting Problems In-House

 As the problems became evident and legislation was passed to provide a safer environment during pur­suits, California was already in the mode of dealing with these issues head-on. When V.C. 17004.7 was passed, most of the issues raised were already being taught in all POST-approved classes; the curriculum was already written and implemented into the courses.

Likewise, when Penal Code 13519.8 was passed in 1994, almost every item addressed in the legislation was already being taught and had been included in many policies statewide. There is room for improvement, but this is a topic that is on the minds of la w enforcement.

In 1989, the California State Legislature helped law enforcement by granting agencies exemption from civil suits arising from third-party pursuit crashes. In other words, if the suspect being chased crashed, the agency could not be held civilly liable for the actions of the suspect.

Some very significant strings went along with the exemption, however, in the form of minimum standards that had to be adopted in the exempted agency's pursuit policies. These exemptions and standards are covered in section 17004.7 of the vehicle code. The intent of this legislation was to have more agencies tighten their pur­suit policies in exchange for this immunity.

California law enforcement agencies are continually updating their pursuit policies and procedures in order to better protect the public, their officers and the public entity. New laws, court cases, cur­rent events, new ideas and better training are usually the motivating factors for reviewing policies and procedures.

Several agencies have even written very restrictive policies, including those in Santa Monica. Fresno. Berke­ley. Daly City. Hillsborough and Riverside County, to name a few. Restrictions include everything from chasing only dangerous felons to allowing no pursuits at all.

The majority of agencies have updat­ed their policies to meet the mandates of CVC 17004.7. These agencies allow pursuits. but hold lhe officers and super­visors much more accountable for their actions. Unquestionably, this has result­ed in fewer pursuits being initiated, more pursuits being canceled, and less danger to the public and the officers.

Moving Through the Legal System

In 1994, the California Legislature adopted Penal Code 13519.8, which directed POST to develop minimum guidelines for pursuit policies as well as a training course for all officers. The intent of this legislation was to establish minimum guidelines for all law enforcement agencies to imple­ment into their pursuit policies.

Pc. 13519.8 also states that the Com­mission on POST must develop a training curriculum to get this information to every peace officer in California who received training prior to the implementa­tion of the law.

Those officers who have had training prior to that date who meet all the man­dates will probably be "grandfathered." or exempted from the training mandate.

The minimum training requirements are two hours for patrol and supervisory personnel, and one hour for those in higher positions. This training is in the process of being prepared in a POST telecourse and is scheduled for broad­cast sometime in February or March1996. The law also encourages follow ­up training, but makes no mandates and gives no time frames.

The success of this endeavor, like so many others, depends upon a suc­cession of events. When all officers have received this first train­ing-whether it be the telecourse alone or as a part of a more complete driver training course-they will have only, been given the information that all agencies must use to develop their individual policies.

This is good information, since it will list virtually all the considerations. And each agency has the option to choose from these elements in their written policies-depending on the specific mission of the agency. It's geo­graphic location and community need. to list a few. After each agency has digested this information and has a policy that it believes meets the stan­dard two other steps must follow:

  • Step One-This is the proper training of that policy to members of the department. This training should be in a format that ensures the under­standing by all members, and the knowledge that the administration is in full support of the contents.
  • Step Two-The supervisors must ensure that the policy is followed. There must be personal accountability on the part of the officers and of the supervisors who set the tone for the field operations of the department. This is up to the supervisors and the officers themselves. The best compli­ance is voluntary, but in the real world that is not always the case.

The bottom line is this: Agencies that set policies and procedures on vehicle pursuits-and properly dis­seminate that information down the lines through proper training-will save lives, reputations and win the respect of the community.

Lt. Forrest Billington, a 28-year veteran of the San Bernardino (Calif.) County Sheriff's Department, serves as the Commander of the Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVOC) Training Center. He is also a law enforcement consultant, expert witness and a member of the POLICE advisory board.

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