SHERIDAN — The Sheridan Police Department made use of the empty space on an old runway at the Sheridan County Airport Monday morning to conduct emergency vehicle operation training.
While the scenario looked like a combination between a drag race and a driver’s education course, the exercise promoted vital skills to Sheridan’s law enforcement officers.
Officers John King and Adam Balthazor are certified EVO instructors certified by the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy in Douglas, and designed a driving course on the flight line to simulate various tight spaces officers must negotiate with their patrol cars during the course of their day-to-day operations.
Ambush alleyways, tight lane changes and narrow garages were represented by bright orange cones set up in maze fashion, and each officer had approximately 90 seconds to get through without knocking over any cones.
“There’s a lot of reason and goals behind this and what we want to accomplish,” Balthazor said, indicating that fender awareness and judgement are the first of many objectives for the day’s exercises.
While it sounds simple enough, the complexity of the course requires a skill set beyond that of a non-tactical driver. A successful negotiation of the course entails bumpers coming within inches of the cones and rapid maneuvering through the succession of scenarios.
“We have a lot of blind spots in these cars with the cages, computers, cameras, radars and other equipment,” he said.
“We want them to be able to drive their cars confidently through tight areas, because there are a lot of tight areas in Sheridan, and that will in turn reduce property damage to our cars,” Balthazor continued. “We’ve never had any serious crashes in our recent history. However, we do get cut bumpers, cracked fenders simply from officers misjudging their fender.”
“This isn’t a pass/fail type deal,” King said, adding the course is a tool that enables an officer to become familiar not only with their personal limits, but the limits of their vehicle. “We want them to know what they can and can’t do.”
The training exercise is the first driving practice for Sgt. Jeff Forsythe since he completed police school in 1997. He said that although driving is a big chunk of an officer’s job, specialized training reinforces the officers’ skill sets.
“It gives us confidence because we come out here and do things we don’t do on a daily basis. Then, if you find yourself in a position where you find you need to use those skills, you’ve got the confidence to do it,” Forsythe said.
King said another key element of EVO training entails controlling the officers’ adrenaline, especially when a high-speed “serpentine,” or slalom, station that burns rubber off the patrol car tires is followed by a series of more meticulous maneuvers.
“They go fast and keep the car going where it’s going, but then they’ll have to turn around and bring that excitement right back down so they don’t hit the cones,” King said.
Forsythe estimated there have been about six high-speed chases through town over the course of the past year. King said high speed driving in town is almost unheard of for officers because of the public safety risk it poses. However, backing down tight alleyways and negotiation of narrow streets is almost a daily occurrence for a patrol officer.
Forsythe said EVO training was part of the department’s skills maintenance training program that features a new skill every six weeks.
“We do a lot of firearms, custody and patrol training,” Balthazor said, “but, this is the first time we’ve done EVO. It just hones the skills we already have.”
Balthazor said he plans to incorporate EVO training into the department’s training regimen for new hires and hopes to repeat the training periodically.