By Colonel John Born, Superintendent, Ohio State Highway Patrol
he life of a law enforcement vehicle is brutal. It takes a beating on many different levels, from the speeds at which it routinely is driven to the number of road miles it travels during a 24-hour period. The Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) recognizes that the patrol vehicle is a vital resource that can ultimately make its troopers more efficient and create a safer driving environment. The OSHP is striving to provide its sworn officers with the safest vehicle available for the diverse duties they are expected to perform, along with the skills essential to operating that vehicle safely.
Over the past few years, there have been significant advances in automotive technology involving safety and overall vehicle dynamics. Advances in engine performance, control mechanisms, and braking systems were three key features that the OSHP considered priorities when selecting a new patrol vehicle. In order to meet the increased driving demands required to make Ohio safer, the OSHP sought a high-performance vehicle that could respond to a driver’s input by controlling its output safely, that is, it was important to obtain a vehicle that had immediate response capabilities.
Transitioning to Dodge Chargers
In the spring of 2012, the OSHP began transitioning to the new Dodge Charger based upon its high performance and five-star safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).1 When the transition is complete, the OSHP may have the largest Dodge Charger high-performance vehicle fleet in North America.
When the OSHP considered the Charger, there was immediate concern over its high performance, its operational differences from the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (CVPI), its handling characteristics, and its impact on the safety of the officers and the public. This commitment to safety was the risk management team’s chief concern, for the OSHP did not want to place its officers in harm’s way by adopting a patrol vehicle that officers were not properly trained to operate in a safe manner.
There are essentially three stress-creating events that law enforcement officers face: being involved in a shooting; being involved in a physical altercation (fight); and operating a patrol vehicle. With each traffic stop made or call for service answered, the unknown always exists. It is the “unknown” for which each officer is trained and for which each officer prepares daily.
Historical data convey that driving a patrol vehicle creates the highest operational risk to officers and the agency. Officers typically do not deploy their service weapons every day, nor do they become involved in a physical altercation every day. However, driving a patrol vehicle generally is an everyday occurrence involving various non-emergency, emergency, and pursuit situations. Law enforcement managers and sworn officers have to manage this risk through a proper and regular emergency vehicle operator course (EVOC).
Increasing Training Standards
The OSHP’s risk managers identified the need for increased EVOC training as it transitioned to the Dodge Charger; they did not want any officers operating a new patrol vehicle without proper familiarization and advanced training. Unfortunately, within the past two years, the OSHP experienced the death of one young officer and serious injuries to two other officers due to traffic-related crashes. Consequently, addressing the dangers of high-speed and pursuit driving became imperative with maintaining officer safety and public safety as priorities in the operation of the new vehicle. Increased, periodic training has become the OSHP’s key to ensuring officers maintain and increase their proficiency behind the wheel.
The OSHP’s Academy staff created for all sworn officers an in-service EVOC, which focused on proficiency verification training and a “safety first” mentality in terms of the Chargers. Economic constraints prohibit Ohio from constructing a new driver training facility. However, in order to provide an improved EVOC, the OSHP has successfully partnered with the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Mid-Ohio) in Lexington, Ohio. This quality training program has the basic objective of providing the finest Dodge Charger law enforcement training found anywhere. Officers who experience the training at Mid-Ohio will agree with world-class, professional drivers who have labeled this track one of the best technical driving tracks in the United States.
The partnership with Mid-Ohio affords the EVOC training staff a comprehensive motorsports facility where the Charger can be driven on a permanent road racing track and the capabilities of the vehicle can be experienced by sworn officers in a multidimensional driving environment. This four-hour block of instruction is broken into two distinct phases: vehicle performance operations and vehicle maneuverability operations. The first phase of the Mid-Ohio training allows sworn officers to work on higher speed driving concepts such as proper line of travel, roadway positioning, and steering inputs. This training incorporates both the performance track and the multi-skills paddock area. The track is a 2.4-mile course comprised of various turns, curves, grades, and straightaways. It allows officers to manage turns and curves and familiarize themselves with the Charger’s handling capabilities. In addition, officers are trained using practical, scenario-based exercises. The second phase of the training requires officers to maneuver through several coned courses and events on the multi-skills paddock in order to familiarize themselves with the Charger’s pivot points, line of sight, turning radius, and overall dynamics. This training affords officers the opportunity to recognize and assess their driving abilities and build upon that vital skill-set. Additionally, a tire deflation device deployment practical exercise is incorporated to further enhance each officer’s ability to properly access, deploy, and retrieve the device.
There are many risk factors when driving at high speeds that must be considered by each officer, such as safety, the officer’s personal abilities, and the capability and speed of the vehicle. As speeds increase, so does the operational risk to both the officer and the public. Therefore, it is important to know that sworn officers can safely operate a vehicle at high speeds and through various practical situations.
Creating the Charger Familiarization Course
The Dodge Charger training that was created by the EVOC training staff is four-fold: an explanation of the dimensional changes and comparisons between the Charger and the CVPI; explanation of Electronic Stability Control (ESC); general familiarization with the Charger; and practical driving events where the officers demonstrate proficiency with the Charger. Transition training is required when an officer is trading in a CVPI for a Charger and must be completed prior to utilizing the vehicle for daily patrol operations.
In creating the training, it was important to explain the terminology involved with the operation of the Charger. The classroom portion of the training includes discussions about the interior, exterior, engine, acceleration, and the ESC feature. The hands-on training with the instructors familiarizes the officers as to where features are located on the interior and exterior of the vehicle. The practical portion encompasses both cone and line of travel events and is geared toward the officers’ becoming comfortable with the dynamics of the vehicle, pivot points, tighter turning radius, line of sight, acceleration, and braking system.
At the conclusion of each EVOC, officers critique the training. There has been overwhelming, positive feedback that the training is necessary for every officer who is assigned a Charger.
Acquiring Decision-Making Skills and Operating a Performance Patrol Vehicle
Operating patrol vehicles requires officers to make many decisions throughout their shifts that could impact both themselves and the public. Law enforcement managers understand that levels of competency and decision making vary among officers. This variance, coupled with a performance-based patrol vehicle that initially is unfamiliar to most officers, could lead to an erroneous driving event. Additionally, many law enforcement managers still fail to provide officers training on a new patrol vehicle.
Relevant EVOCs need to be developed and implemented to train officers on the importance of making good, sound decisions while behind the wheel. When molding their decision-making skills, officers must understand that going fast is not the goal of driving the Charger. Ultimately, the safety of both the officer and the public is the primary goal.
For more information on the OSHP’s EVOC, email Sergeant Carolyn Zeisler at firstname.lastname@example.org. ♦
1“2012 Dodge Charger Safety Overview,” http://autos.aol.com/cars-Dodge-Charger-2012/safety-features (accessed March 7, 2013).
Please cite as:
John Born, "Safety First," The Police Chief 80 (July 2013): 40–42.