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Making every day a training day 

“Training’s not like a pill you take then you’re good. It’s a complicated issue that needs to be reminded of over and over again throughout the year,” Eric Peterson, Hillsborough town manager, said.

Despite his 20 years of racecar driving experience, Peterson has trained officers in Hillsborough to adopt a slower-is-faster mentality and strives for officers to have at least 5 minutes of training daily. The training can range from watching videos and sharing helpful articles to a check-ride system where supervisors ride with officers, said Police Chief Duane Hampton.

“We stress in training that in our profession, nobody is going to make us safer than us,” Hampton said. “Someone has to step up, and we have to change our culture – our bad habits – and we have to put in place the tools and teamwork to make everyone safer.”

According to data acquisition monitors, similar to those used in Indy and NASCAR teams, drivers who go into a corner slower and have the car under control when they come out, not only have a bigger margin for error when they come out of the corner, but they’re actually faster.

“In racing, there’s very little penalty for mistake, but if you’re  a police officer and you go into corner a little too fast, that’s the difference between hitting a curb, light pole, or citizen, and not having a collision,” Peterson said.

It’s that kind of risk that inspired the League to work with Peterson and others to develop the Slower is Faster training video in 2012. The video emphasizes the importance of looking ahead, braking early and making good decisions. In May several leaders from police departments across the state were invited to a two-day training in Statesville.

It was the second annual training of its kind, consisting of one day of classroom instruction followed by a second day of in-car instruction where chiefs and other leaders learned techniques they can bring home to their officers.  

Roxboro Sergeant James Cash attended the training and said he plans on sharing the information with not only his fellow officers but his family and friends, too.

“I feel that everyone deserves the right to share in this knowledge and has the right to be safe and act in a safer manner when operating a 2000-plus pound vehicle or motorcycle,” Cash said.

The training goes beyond the basic driving around cones to pushing officers to think about the best way to handle a situation with trainers asking questions like “Are you looking above the hood of the car,” “Is this an emergency situation,” and “Are you braking as early as you should be?”

“Breaking early and looking ahead are in the basic curriculum for law enforcement training, but what we’ve heard for 15 years is that nobody is talking to students about basic driving. They’re just making them drive through the cones,” Peterson said. “A lot of times it may be mentioned, but in 40 hours of Basic Law Enforcement Training, there’s so much being thrown at them that it’s like drinking from a fire hose.”

He said the best learning opportunity of the training is when students are in the passenger seat while an instructor drives. This new perspective shows the officer where they should be looking and how early they should be braking.

The training also consists of decision stations where officers have to make a quick judgment call on the best way to proceed. Officers are encouraged to use situational awareness and ask themselves “Is it worth the pursuit,” and “Is it worth driving fast?”

“We’re not that different from other people driving cars. I think there are moments officers have in the car when they did something, and they’re like ‘I didn’t even realize I was doing that,’” Hampton said. “We’ve taped up windshields so officers were forced to keep their vision up. It’s amazing when the officers come out of the car and say ‘I had no idea how much I don’t get my eyes up off the hood of the car when I’m driving in a stressful situation.’”

It’s those stressful situations that cause increased heart rate, narrowed vision, impaired judgment, slower reactions times and auditory exclusion. According to Hampton, the best way to combat the negative effects of adrenaline in stressful situations is to train yourself on a daily basis to react and drive more calmly.

“What we’re pushing is not just going out and driving on a course – that’s a piece of it for maybe agencies that can do it – but we’re pushing the agencies that don’t have the facilities to do things like have conversations and watch videos of each others driving,” Hampton said. “If we can build strong daily driving habits, it’s going to transfer when we hit stressful situations.”

Hampton and Peterson agree making police driver training a priority is a must-do from a financial and human safety standpoint. According to Hampton, more officers are dying from preventable accidents than gunshot wounds.

“We’re losing officers that we shouldn’t, and it’s up to us to start making the changes,” Hampton said. “I think we’re really starting to head in the right direction.”