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Anchorage police recruits hone emergency vehicle driving skills at JBER

By David Bedard | JBER Public Affairs | March 29, 2012

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — With siren blaring and red and blue lights spinning on his patrol car, Anchorage Police Department Sgt. Rod Ryan was the calm eye of a vehicular storm as he deftly pursued another officer who simulated a fleeing suspect March 22 at a Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson inactive taxiway.

Zip. Zip. Zip. The steering wheel made the sound as Ryan swiftly slid the rim through his fingers, never letting go of the wheel with either of his hands in a technique called the two-handed slide. The Gowrie, Iowa native and Air Force Reserve Office of Special Investigations special agent said the technique ensured he maintained positive control of the car while giving him the upper hand over his quarry.

"This section coming up is what we call 'the cone of death,'" Ryan said as his patrol car approached an impossibly narrow isthmus of orange rubber. "It's just wide enough for a car to get through, so you have to know the width of your car."

Without sliding the rear end of the car or inducing a hint of tire squealing, Ryan threaded his vehicle through the cone passageway at speed with mere inches to spare.

The scenario played out dozens of times last week while Anchorage Police Department Academy police recruits cut their teeth during the APD Emergency Vehicle Operators Course.

"The purpose of the course is to teach the recruits skills of how to drive under control," Ryan explained. "We're not teaching the recruit officer how to drive. They should already know how to drive. What we're doing is refining their skills to drive faster and safer."
APD Sgt. Glenn Daily, patrol supervisor, said the course endeavors to maximize the potential of police officer and machine during emergency driving.

"We teach them to make the best use of their abilities and their car's abilities," he said. "We teach them better control of the vehicle through steering techniques, correct use of the accelerator, and braking."

Daily said the JBER taxiway is the only facility that provides the space and isolation necessary to carry out an effective EVOC.

"It provides conditions that match what they're going to encounter on the street without all of the traffic," Daily said. "The base leadership has been outstanding in allowing us to do that."

During the course, most of the tarmac was covered in snow and ice while patches of dry concrete challenged recruits' ability to cope with the transition. Daily said the challenging course conditions helped to build the recruits' trust in their capabilities.

"We want them to be confident," he said. "They can have the technical skills, but they can't be afraid to use it because they don't want to slide on the ice. We take them to their limits."

Because public safety is always the primary concern, Daily said police officers are taught to maneuver around traffic with utmost precision and care. They are also taught to think on their feet to determine if it is wise to continue a pursuit.

"If it gets to the point where the pursuit is causing more danger than the bad guy we're chasing, that's when we're out," Daily said. "There's not a whole lot of places he can go. The priority is always public safety."

Daily said, though patrol cars are certainly unique with their police livery and conspicuous light bars, they are little different mechanically when compared to their civilian counterparts.

Daily said his Police Interceptor is equipped with a beefier suspension to cope with pursuit driving and the car's slightly heavier weight. Part of the car's added weight is due to a roll cage, which reinforces the crash worthiness of the vehicle.

The rear bench seat is replaced with a hard plastic seat, which is durable, easily cleaned and not especially comfortable.

A computer screen dominates the center of the dashboard and serves as the focal point for a police officer's situational awareness, much like a Blue Force Tracker does for U.S. military forces deployed overseas.

Through the computer interface, Daily said he can access detailed dispatches, see the current status of his police officers, and read and write police reports.

The recruit officers are nearing the end of their nearly six-month training cycle, Daily said, and will graduate in a few weeks. They will then enter into recruit officer training when they will be paired with a more experienced officer for about three months.

For his part, Ryan said he feels honored because he is able to influence a new generation of police officers.

"I have input into their conduct, morals, integrity and ethics," Ryan said. "To be part of that and to let them know we have very high standards here and accept nothing less."
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