Police cars circled the parking lots of Western Nevada Community College on Monday as students of the Western Nevada State Peace Officers Academy practiced driving skills learned earlier in class.
"What we're asking these people to do is change the way they drive in steering, accelerating and handling curves," said Scott Johnston, Nevada Emergency Vehicle Operations consultant. "This is not racing. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The important thing is to slow down, tip toe around corners and when you have to go fast, do so on the straightaways."
To finish their academy training, students must complete a 40-hour emergency vehicle training course. They will be tested today on their skills.
"The highest liability officers have is out there on the street," said Katie Durbin, commander of the police academy. "So the best training we can give them will decrease departmental liability."
Johnston said the course consists of 10 in-classroom hours and 30 in the field.
Students must complete a series of obstacle courses set up with orange cones, engage in a pursuit in which the instructors play the "bad guys," test their perception and reaction and complete braking exercises.
Student Tom Urso climbed behind the wheel for his turn at the obstacle course.
"We go as quick as we can and still stay in control," he said.
One of the techniques that helps him stay in control of the car while maintain high speeds is what is called the shuffle steer. The shuffle steer allows the driver to make sharp turns without crossing one hand over the other.
"Sometimes it's hard for me to remember to do," Urso said. However, Urso reached speeds up to 35 mph maneuvering around the cones in the parking lot without hitting any.
"It's exciting," Urso said. "We're learning valuable techniques that you can apply to everyday driving as well."
In addition to the physical techniques, Johnston said the students need to be emotionally prepared as well. He said police officers cannot be overwhelmed by emotion in a high-stress situation.
"We try to teach them to drive smart, not hard," he said.
He said the motto of the class is, "A superior driver is one who uses superior knowledge to never have to demonstrate superior skill."
During the mock car chase portion of the training, students conduct the chase using sirens.
Durbin said that some neighbors have complained of the noise but that it is a necessary part of the training.
"I hate to disturb the residents, but in order to simulate real life, we need to turn on the sirens to give them the feeling of true hot pursuit," she said. "Our most important job as law-enforcement officers is to protect and serve the community and the way we do that is through training."
She said the training has a clean safety record.
"Knock on wood, I have never had a single accident in this academy," Durbin said.