Drive to the limit

Area police, including Deputy Andrews, right, chase the “suspect” car during mock pursuit training. - Photo by Kassie Korich
Area police, including Deputy Andrews, right, chase the “suspect” car during mock pursuit training.
— image credit: Photo by Kassie Korich

The crazed suspects had just robbed a grocery store, but the police were hot on their tail with speeds reaching upwards of 70 mph within seconds.

Although this was just a training scenario, high speed pursuits, treacherous driving conditions and deranged suspects are just a few of the situations police officers encounter on the streets.

To prepare local deputies and officers to safely handle any situation they may encounter on the road, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office hosts the West Sound Regional Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) twice a year.

The two-week training, which continues into next week, is offered to Kitsap County deputies and 14 neighboring police departments including Lakewood, Gray’s Harbor and Bainbridge Island with each agency providing their own police vehicles for the training.

“Part of the reason we train multiple agencies is because it’s really important that all agencies are on the same page,” said EVOC instructor Deputy Jon VanGesen.

EVOC is offered twice a year and Kitsap County Sheriff’sdeputies must attend the event at least once a year. Some police departments require attendance at both sessions.

VanGesen has been an EVOC instructor for three years and enjoys teaching his peers safe and effective driving techniques.

“I like giving the officers things to keep them safe on day-to-day duties,” VanGesen said.

EVOC is intended to improve police officers and deputies driving skills and refresh them on the proper techniques to use in certain situations.

“We’re not trying to break their habits, but give them alternatives,” said EVOC instructor Deputy Eric Janson.

EVOC addresses four main driving areas: high speed pursuit, slow speed skills course, mock pursuit and pursuit immobilization techniques (PIT).

The high speed pursuit training allows officers and deputies to train by weaving in and out of orange cones at high speeds. Instructors show students the course and allow them to practice their high speed driving techniques in a safe environment.

“Mistakes are OK out here,” VanGesen said. “The more mistakes made on the track, the less mistakes on the streets.”

Students are told to drive within their own limits, but to push the police vehicle at some point to test its abilities.

“We want students to know the best their car will perform,” Janson explained.

During the slow speed skills course, students practice backing up and weaving through tight spots. Orange cones simulate parking areas which officers and deputies could encounter on the streets.

With the raceway serving as the setting, a drug-seized Lexus, driven by an EVOC inspector, is used as the “suspect” car.

“The hardest thing for student drivers to get is to look straight ahead and smooth out their steering,” VanGesen said.

The final driving issue addressed at EVOC is PIT maneuvers. Police officers and deputies must be certified to perform the maneuvers. Not all police departments are allowed to use PIT, but the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is certified to do so.

“My favorite part of EVOC is the student’s favorite, the PIT,” VanGesen said. “It is something they don’t get to do anywhere but here. You don’t really get to get out there and spin out another car.”

PIT is a rare tactic used to stop a pursuit. A police officer or deputy bumps and spins the suspect vehicle, forcibly ending the chase.

EVOC instructors host debriefing meetings after each training session. Instructors tell students what they thought went well and what needed improvement.

“You can do it, but if you don’t talk about it you’re not accomplishing anything,” VanGesen said.

EVOC is a beneficial and enjoyable experience for students and instructors alike.

“I truly enjoy watching (officers) improve their driving skills,” said EVOC instructor Deputy Dave Green. “They come to EVOC and now they’re making better decisions on the road.”

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