By Mark Elias
Thursday, Mar 21st, 2013 @ 11:45 am
 
Sliding across the smooth plastic Prisoner Transport Seat in the business side (rear seat) of a relatively young Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor, I take a header into the steel bars that separate me from my freedom.

Lots of things happen in these back seats, but the only thing I can think of is how good it would feel to take a leap into a huge tub of Purel right about now.

I am in the back seat of a Palm Beach Sheriff's Office squad car photographing over the shoulder of a member of the force's K-9 team as he gorillas a coned obstacle course at the dedicated driving instruction facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. I am a slave to my art.

Moments later, we are in the front seat, with lights flashing and sirens blaring in pursuit of an imaginary perp fleeing in a stolen vehicle. We quickly negotiate the coned course as the driving instructor to my right yells for me to "go left." All the while, to keep the energy, and distractions up, high-octane rock and roll is pumping out of a speaker cone that has seen better days.

Welcome to Pursuit Driving School.

Tried and tested
When O.J. Simpson went on his slow speed chase almost 20 years ago, the LAPD was the model of restraint in chasing down the now-incarcerated former athlete. We're not sure we'd be able to hold back before attempting a Pursuit Intervention Technique, or PIT maneuver (think NASCAR bump drafting). But in order to do it properly, there is training involved. Taught by law enforcement agencies across the globe, we had a chance to ride along with deputies from the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office to learn a thing or two about pursuit techniques, stop sticks and vehicular interception.

Part of the instruction involves rapid lane changes, decision making at speed, and pursuit within a coned course.

An instructor told us, "I had a guy do the course in 50 seconds a while back, but he killed a whole family of cones. I did 53 seconds with no cones. We don't encourage them to go fast."

Another aspect of their training involves backing up the Crown Vics in hot pursuit situations.

"We suck at backing," said PBSO lead instructor Cpl. Heriberto (Tito) Santiago. "The goal here is to minimize car and property damage that occurs when adrenaline and pursuit combine to become chaos."

Officers receive refresher courses every other year, consisting of four hours on the blacktop, and four hours in virtual reality simulators. There are also policy lectures about the use of devices like stop strips, which in many departments require a supervisor's approval before they can be deployed. Improper usage could result in property damage and lead to loss of life. Proper care is taught.

Instruction is performed in the familiar Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors and Chevrolet Impala cruisers. The 4.6-liter Ford V8s and 3.6-liter Chevrolet V6s are factory stock. Speedometers are calibrated and certified.

Some are equipped with standard tires, while others are outfitted with EasyDrift rubber, which allow for slow-speed tail wagging, or in the case of the Impala, nosing about. Used to teach recovery from spins and slides, they are quite the challenge at speeds under 30 mph.

Sliding about on a huge skidpad immediately shows the benefits of the EasyDrift tires in simulating high-speed drifts in a much slower, non-life flashing-before-your-eyes manner. The tail easily breaks loose at less than 20 mph, but the recovery is every bit as difficult, as if at higher speed, if too much correction is put into play.

The goal of the PBSO driving instruction classes, according to Santiago, is to be as efficient as possible behind the wheel.

"We are better drivers than the bad guys we are chasing. My goal is to get the deputy to slow down in order to keep up."

The object, as he states, is to control the other car.

"If he takes the early apex, then I am going to be right beside him on the outside. If we are going slow enough to keep up, able to talk on the radio, and apprehend him, then we've won.

"We won't have damage to our cars, we're not going to have crashes, and we're not going to have any of that stuff. You won't hear any of our deputies running, all out of breath."

The cones? Just consider them collateral damage.