Police officers face stressful situations on the job and need to be prepared, but that preparation can be difficult to recreate in a training environment.
The Gig Harbor Police Department developed its own combination driving and defensive training, trying to get close to that real world feeling.
The police department met behind the Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One headquarters on Thursday for its annual training of the 16-member department.
The training was developed in house, which makes it unique in the business, Police Chief Kelly Busey said.
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One of the skills the officers honed was pursuit driving. When it comes to life on the job, pursuit driving is more than tracking down a suspect — it’s about making split-second decisions to protect the safety of the officer and civilians.
“Pursuits are tough because you can’t write a pursuit policy that covers every situation,” Busey said.
The decision comes down to weighing capture against danger against the reward, Busey said, and in certain situations police do chase suspects.
To test out the officer’s instincts, the department used a special driving simulator owned by the state. With three panels and a real car seat and wheel, the driving simulator puts officers through exercises that include accident avoidance, spotting infractions (such as running a red light), and engaging in a pursuit of a driver.
“It’s the best resource we have,” said Officer Joe Hicks of the simulator, “without actually doing it on the road.”
The simulation doesn’t end there. The officers, once they’ve tracked down the vehicle they pursued, grab a fake gun and leave the trailer that houses the simulator.
Then, things are in the real world. They charge up a hill outside with other officers shouting at them until they spot their suspect, who in this case is a little different.
Lt. Fred Douglas played the part of suspect. He wore a foam suit and helmet, and officers caught up to him in a room at the fire headquarters.
Once the officers met Douglas, their defensive tactics training began. The officers shouted orders at Douglas, who didn’t cooperate, and then subdued him with the use of hand-to-hand combat and a foam baton.
Officer Garrett Chapman handled the defensive training aspect of the training. After each officer tussled with Douglas, he had a one-on-one discussion with them about their performance.
The situation was set up to be an incident that would not require deadly force.
“We have a duty to arrest people with the lowest level of force,” Chapman said.
The training put stress on the officers in order to test their level of force. In the moment, officers need to think straight despite the circumstances.
Douglas taunts the officers, the instructors shout at the officers, and in the room an old TV blares white noise. But that last one hasn’t made the difference Busey expected.
After each session, the officer is asked if the noise from the television was distracting.
Most never heard it at all. Even Busey, who knew it would be there, didn’t hear the noise. That’s the power of the officer’s focus.
The other half of the training, which officers completed before the intense exercise, was basic driving. Police officers work out of their cars more than in the station. They often have their radio and their laptop involved as they run license plates and listen for important calls.
That’s why the fundamentals need to be precise. Hicks, the driving instructor for the department, gave feedback as officers parallel parked, ran through cones and worked through three-point turns.
The training was a big success, Busey said, and he’s excited about the future as it gets further developed. One thing that helped the department was the use of the fire department’s training ground.
The co-operative relationship between the police and fire departments in Gig Harbor is getting stronger.
“More and more we’re doing things together,” Busey said, “and that doesn’t happen in every police and fire district.”