Officers drive home skills needed to chase suspects
Columbus Telegram, NE - Apr 17, 2004
Heather Koontz, Telegram Staff Writer
Civilians getting out of police cars grinning.
It's different when they were in the driver's seat.
Students in the Citizens Police Academy had the chance to pilot a cruiser Saturday morning on a closed course at the Columbus Airport. The class of seven Police Academy students was taught by Officers Aaron Howland and Jason Romshek.
The session was a taste of the training police officers go through annually in case of high speed pursuits and it gave students first-hand experience with the level of technique officers are required to have during such times.
The three-hour session was split into three parts: driving the car, being a passenger with a trained officer at the wheel and driving with the lights and sirens on.
Sitting behind the wheel of a Ford Crown Victoria, white hood large and looming, a sea of orange dots and asphalt spread out in front.
It's not just driving somebody else's car, it's driving a police officer's car (even if it is out of service), with lots of police officers around.
But they're saying, "Go for it," and every muscle is aching to hit the accelerator, slam on the brakes, maneuver through turns and skid around something at some point.
Those cones that are supposed to designate the lane are laid out at a width that, from the cockpit perspective, seems about a foot wider than the car. Howland said the lane was at least 12 feet wide at any given spot in the course, and the car is no wider than 8 feet.
Reversing around this cone then that one seemed to cause the most trouble. Some students were better than others. But overall, the cone casualty rate across the course was high.
Averaging speeds just above idle, we learned the course, drove back to start, and took it a few more times, gaining momentum with our confidence.
Jim Briggs was the first to go around. He got out of the car looking like a kid at Christmas.
"That's a rush. It was more fun than I thought it would be. Once you get behind the wheel, you start feeling like a policeman chasing someone," Briggs said.
"The third time, I wanted to do better with speed."
Having just hit top speeds of not that fast and crushing cones like they were worth top points, our turn came in the passenger seat.
Compared to the students, the officers' driving was pure precision.
Romshek looked over with a cool glance, drawled out a casual, "Hang on," and slammed on the gas, maneuvered through turns, braked without instantaneous whiplash and skidded around lots of things.
But where I was white-knuckled at 15 mph, he was doing 40, and didn't hit a cone.
"I like it better riding with them," Cindy Bower said. "It's faster. A lot faster."
After that, we had a chance to ride in either the good guy or bad guy car, in a lights-flashing, sirens-blaring chase around the course. Watching the cat-and-mouse game gave a good appreciation of the importance of the training.
"I just have way more respect for them, the way they can control these cars," Brewer said.
"When you drive with your lights and sirens on, it gets your blood pumping, your adrenaline going. It changes the way you drive," Romshek had said before the class started.
We had learned the course, then saw how it should be done. It was our turn.
Howland flipped the sirens on, and there was an instant signal to my brain to hit the gas. The first little jaunt to the left, the hairpin turn, it was all of a sudden my road.
I slowed down here the last time but not now, I thought through the slalom. Now, I'm making time.
"You feel like you need to go faster. It's like, 'Get 'em, get 'em, get 'em," Wanda Arp said.
Howland said that's why the officers go through the training they do.
"Even with us, our adrenaline goes up when we get involved in a pursuit. But because of our training, we're able to control those emotions that as a civilian you can't because you're not used to that. That's why we do that type of training, so when we get involved in pursuits or shootings, our training kicks in and it's not just adrenaline."