Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Police Train for Fast Response in St. Marys; Traveling Simulator Helps Prepare for Emergencies

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Police Train for Fast Response in St. Marys; Traveling Simulator Helps Prepare for Emergencies

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

ST. MARYS -- It's a chilling scenario that could face any police officer at any time.

A gunman has fired shots on the property of a local school and St. Marys police officer Kevin Barber has been dispatched to the scene.

As Barber speeds down a busy road to the school, he is cautioned to be wary of potential dangers from other vehicles at intersections. Moments later, his patrol car crashes into a fire truck.

"This isn't really how I drive," he says, before stepping on the gas pedal to continue to the crime scene.

Barber accelerates to more than 70 mph and slows down to navigate a 90-degree turn at 57 mph, sliding off the road. He accelerates again and slams on the brakes six feet from a stop sign, sliding through an intersection at 49 mph.

He then accelerates to 65 mph, passing a car in a residential area, before arriving to the crime scene.

Barber's high-speed drive to the shooting was not real. It was part of a computer-generated training exercise.

A driver's seat, steering wheel and other controls such as turn signals, brake and gas pedals control the computer program, which shows a realistic view of roads, buildings, traffic lights, stop signs and other vehicles.

The simulated driver's seat, dashboard, windshield, side windows and mirrors are used to help better prepare police officers for emergencies.

After Barber completed his turn on the driving simulator, another officer successfully completed his computer-simulated response to a different crime scene, but ran several stop signs on the way. A third officer driving to assist an officer who stopped an armed robbery suspect hits a dog that unexpectedly runs into his path.

Training officer Kevin Weigand said as many as 100 different scenarios can be shown on the simulator.

The purpose of the training, Weigand said, is to help keep insurance costs down for local law enforcement agencies and make it safer for police officers, pedestrians and motorists on the roads during a response to a typical emergency.

"In the '80s, we'd chase until the wheels fell off," Weigand, a former police officer with 24 years' experience, said.

Things are different nowadays, with more traffic in fast-growing areas such as St. Marys. Safety for everyone on the road has to be a major consideration, he said.

CUTTING LIABILITY COSTS AND RISK

The program is offered by Local Government Risk Management Services and was created by organizations that represent city and county governments in Georgia, to reduce the liability costs and risk to the public.

Prior to training on the simulator, which is housed in a travel trailer, officers attended four hours of classroom training, where they learned state requirements on regular and emergency response driving, vehicle handling characteristics, physical driving conditions and driving techniques during an emergency response. …

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