Police get crash course on high speed pursuits

Bremerton Police Officer J.D. Miller directs Det. Kenny Davis through the backing portion of emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC) training Wednesday. - Photo by Sean Janssen
Bremerton Police Officer J.D. Miller directs Det. Kenny Davis through the backing portion of emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC) training Wednesday.
— image credit: Photo by Sean Janssen

High-speed chases have become much more visible in recent years with the prevalence of television shows like “World’s Most Dangerous Police Videos” and the need for exciting video to fill 24-hour news channels.

“Chases are becoming more sensationalized than more prevalent,” said Sgt. Peter Fisher, traffic supervisor for the Bremerton Police Department.

Fisher and other instructors led 62 Bremerton police officers along with personnel from the Port Orchard Police Department through emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC) training throughout this week at the Bremerton Raceway.

Training included life-like scenarios to test officers’ ability to think quickly behind the wheel.

“We base scenarios to judge decision-making. We come up with crimes and scenarios that do not meet (the department’s) pursuit policy,” Fisher said. “We come up with others that do and grade their performance in their driving.”

Bremerton police participate in EVOC training twice each year, in November and again in April. The combined training with Port Orchard is “cost-effective and we’re able to pool more instructors,” Fisher said.

Officers took part in the training during their regular shift hours.

“We try to set the training so it’s mirroring the conditions that they’re facing while on-duty,” Fisher said.

The five-day course went nearly around the clock this week beginning Monday, as officers were on the track between 7 a.m. and 3 a.m. each day.

Officers practiced stable-platform driving, straight-line braking and acceleration and maneuvering between cones on the high-speed course and navigated tricky cone placements and tight spaces on the slower portion of the course.

“We want the officers to be able to get the feel of the car,” Fisher said. “It kind of translates to hazard avoidance on the street.”

Also practiced were pursuit intervention technique (PIT) maneuvers, adapted from NASCAR racing maneuvers developed in the early 1990s and adopted by the Washington State Patrol in 1997.

The PIT maneuvers look simpler than they really are to execute. At speeds of 55 mph, they cause the vehicle being “pitted” to spin out of control and often kill the engine. The officer lines up with the suspect vehicle and nudges its rear driver’s side, then must move quickly to the side to avoid the spinning-out car. At freeway speeds like 70 mph, PITs become a much riskier “deadly force” maneuver, one that would only be used in pursuit of the most dangerous of suspects.

One more element of the training takes place outside of a vehicle as officers practice laying out spike strips to slow a suspect vehicle and quickly pulling them back out of the way before law enforcement vehicles pass over the section of roadway.

“What you don’t want to do is hold on to the rope in case the spike strips wrap up around the tire,” said Bremerton Police Lt. Greg Rawlins. “You can lose a finger.”

“Obviously bad things happen during (pursuits),” Fisher said. “But you can mitigate them by writing ... and adhering to a good policy and getting officers to understand and adhere to that policy.”

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