Not your average driving test
Media goes behind the wheel on the EVOC training course
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department invited members of the media out to the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center in Castaic on Wednesday to learn what it’s like to go “Code 3” from not only an in-person experience, but also do it themselves behind the wheel.
“Code 3” is when an emergency response vehicle turns its sirens on and has the ability to run red lights. A “Code 3” response is warranted in felony or emergency situations such as a robbery, burglary, baby choking, etc. There are few misdemeanors that require a “Code 3” response.
Another situation that prompts a “Code 3” response is in a pursuit.
“The reality is pursuits are dangerous and dynamic,” said Deputy Jesus Hernandez.
Pursuits are authorized by watch commanders and handling unit deputies. Many pursuits are due to an active crime or failure to comply in a traffic stop.
Most warranted “Code 3” responses have been developed over the years as more scenarios come into play.
“All the reasons why we have all our policies written, is based on case laws that happened in the past,” said Deputy Shawn Spoonhunter.
As Spoonhunter said in the demonstration, pursuits are not for all deputies. Pursuits are highstress situations in which deputies have to make split-second decisions, with the public’s safety as a first priority.
Many aspects go into driving in a pursuit. One of the most important is breathing.
LASD deputies exemplified that breathing provides control in the situation of a pursuit. With a steady inhale and exhale, deputies can remain calm and focused.
Remaining calm and focused in a pursuit is crucial in order to provide audible information, effectively assess the flow of traffic and adapt to whatever situation is prompted.
“People get tunnel vision,” said Spoonhunter. “One of the tactics we noticed that we teach is the new drivers that’ll start can have a death grip on their steering wheel, and they start leaning forward and holding their breath. So, when you do that, you’re inducing auditory exclusion, so you’re not paying attention to the radio and you’re just focusing right ahead. What we want you to do is lean, so my
back’s against the seat. I can see my fingers moving. We emphasize that in training.”
Pursuits can directly put the public at risk. In training, deputies are taught that the public’s safety is the No. 1 priority. Pursuits revolve around just that.
When in pursuit, deputies are able to travel in “due regard” or up to 20 mph above the speed limit.
At intersections deputies must look ahead to ensure that they are clear to go through and, if unsure, must stop one lane at a time until they have cleared the intersection.
In doing so, some deputies may place a hand up, as Spoonhunter said, as a universal way to stay “stop.”
The more road available, the better for deputies in pursuit. This openness allows for them to maximize their turns at high speeds by threshold breaking, staying at the inside of the curb, coasting the turn and accelerating out.
Spoonhunter said that it takes the public on average five to seven seconds to move to the right for emergency response vehicles. During this time, deputies most slow down as much as possible or even fully stop to accommodate the public.
While the public is trained to veer off to the right, emergency response vehicles are trained to drive on the left.
Deputies utilize shuffle steering to ensure that there is no entanglement in their arms for the optimized amount of motion in pursuits. Shuffle steering prompts two hands on the wheel at all times, shuffling for turns and lane switches. One hand, while in pursuit, will hold the radio.
The two things deputies will always do in pursuit – scan and breathe.
“Composure is big,” said Spoonhunter.
According to Spoonhunter, pursuits last an average of three and a half minutes.
For some training recruits, they will never get to the point of being able to pass on to be involved in a real pursuit.
“Some people handle stress really well, some people can’t and cave in,” said Spoonhunter.
Media gets behind the wheel
After a presentation on emergency response and deputies answering any questions the media had, it was the media’s turn to get behind the wheel.
Each media representative who wished to drive on the EVOC driving training course was paired with one LASD deputy.
LASD deputies first drove the media personnel in the passenger seat around the training course and explained all of their driving maneuverers, tactics and protocol.
After just one demonstration, it was the media’s turn to get behind the wheel.
Media personnel went around the course multiple times, increasing the involving factors of a pursuit each time.
The first was simply driving the course at the demanded speed, the second involved going “Code 3” with the radio in hand, the third involved being followed by an assisting unit and accommodating a public driver moving out of the way and the fourth was the full experience.
The final drive through the course began with witnessing a crime in real time. Members involved with the training acted out a carjacking scenario in which one suspect with a gun forced a victim to exit his vehicle. The suspect got into the vehicle and accelerated away. The victim cried for help and explained that his car was just stolen.
Media personnel had to accelerate off in pursuit of the vehicle while also using the dispatch radio to convey all the information they could (type of crime, suspect description, suspect’s weapon, vehicle description, license plate number if able, what street they were traveling on and in which direction).
Along the pursuit, additional units followed and some forced media personnel to stop at intersections, just as trained to do so.
What usually takes trainees multiple days to learn, media had to try to complete within an hour.
“It was fun,” said media driver Jamie Araki. “It helps that I drive an SUV, I could see how people who don’t drive an SUV could struggle.”
“Our goal is to get you guys to kind of experience what we do on a daily basis behind the wheel,” said Deputy Grace Medrano.