A call for a carjacking comes over the radio, and Sgt. Steve Carey with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office turns on the siren. Negotiating quick turns in following the suspect, Carey tails the perpetrator without ever leaving the Allen Creek Training Center.
Sheriff’s Office deputies are training on driving simulators to reduce risk on the road and potential litigation. From trailers parked in the Allen Creek Training Center parking lot, officers practice some of the 80 different simulated exercises.
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce the risk for officers inside the vehicle and reduce the risk to the driving public,” said public safety risk consultant Michael Earl.
Earl works with Local Government Risk Management Services, a provider of classroom and simulator training for law enforcement. The program is supported by property/liability self-insurance funds.
The simulator comes with three screens surrounding a driver’s seat, equipped with a realistic gearshift, ignition and pedals.
As Carey finally catches up with his virtual suspect, the stolen vehicle vanishes off-screen behind a building. Carey, acing the simulation under Earl’s supervision, creeps slowly so to not fall prey to an ambush.
“Once they disappear from sight ... could they possibly bail out and pose a deadly threat to the officer?” Earl asked.
All officers go through roughly two hours of training, which can be counted toward Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements.
Julie Hyer, another LGRMS public safety risk consultant, taught the class how driving instruction has changed since many officers first learned how to drive. The “10-and-2” tradition for where to place hands on a steering wheel has been replaced with the “9-and-3” technique, which allows for a greater turning radius.
Hyer’s simulation seemed simple enough: Reach the speed she calls out and stop at the stop sign. The exercise illustrates that accelerating to that speed can make it difficult to safely brake and check for oncoming traffic.
“Can a mile per hour make a difference?” Hyer asked the group. “Absolutely it can.”
Through the classroom training and simulator, Earl said he hopes to reinforce all of the best practices to take back out on the road.
“High speed driving and officers not wearing seat belts are the top killers of law enforcement in the world today,” Earl said.
Officers are told to “go toward where the problem came from,” meaning to drive in the opposite direction of an oncoming obstacle. If a car is traveling eastbound in front of the officer, the officer should then turn left.
In the event that the deputy wrecks in the simulation, there’s always the rewind button.
“It’s a whole lot easier to solve a wreck in here than it is out on the road,” Earl said.