KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Historically, car crashes hurt and kill more police officers than any other cause.
It’s something the KCMO Police Department works hard to avoid by requiring all recruits to go through extensive driver training.
It’s not usually ideal to slam on your brakes.
“That is a dead stop. That’s exactly what we want,” an instructor said.
But at the Kansas City Regional Police Academy, it’s exactly what driving instructors are looking for.
“A child has jumped out in front of you here, and there’s a semi-tractor trailer truck parked right here,” the instructor said.
In the first exercise, seven officers are learning to stop, then steer, in order to come to an emergency stop and avoid a collision.
“Any time you do an evasive action, you’re putting yourself at risk,” the instructor said.
Recruits start at a slow speed then work up.
“It’s a little different in the city, and I never drove one of these (smaller patrol cars),” Jack Cotter said.
Cotter is transferring to KCPD from the Missouri Highway Patrol. Although he’s been in law enforcement a few years, he knows going through driver training is a key part of staying safe on the job.
“It’s good to know what the vehicle’s capable of and what you need to do to respond and make it react the way you want it to,” Cotter said.
Every new recruit or transfer to KCPD goes through 40 hours of driver training, a combination of the classroom and the training track at the police academy.
Current officers have to take classes again if they have an accident.
“A priority we try to teach is to get there. We want you to get there because if you don’t get there, you’re of no good, of no value to anyone at that point,” said Mike Moats, KCPD driving instructor.
The police academy instructors even put FOX4’s Kera Mashek through the paces at 40 miles an hour. A cone was narrowly missed in the first run. The second run was not as easy.
“A couple of cones bit the dust. This is definitely harder than it looks,” Mashek said.
Within KCPD, 600 officers spend the majority of their day on the road. In 2018, KC officers were involved in 68 crashes, nearly a third happened while simply backing up.
“The reason why we do this exercise guys is because this is how we wind up in preventable accidents,” the instructor said.
So the second half of day one training is a circuit.
Officers practice backing into parking spaces and parallel parking. There’s also a three-point turn, a J-turn and avoiding obstacles. And then officers do the whole circuit in reverse.
“It helps re-establish the skills you already have and bring them back so you’re more assertive in the actions you’re going to take and you’re more confident in what you do,” said KCPD DUI officer Jeremy White, who was taking the training.
Officers get scored on a sheet, and instructors look for how closely directions were followed and how many cones were hit.
“We want them to be safe, but we also want to know that they’re safe and the skills that we’re teaching them can actually save their lives,” Moats said.
And because police are often in a hurry wherever they go, training on these everyday skills can help keep both the officers and the traveling public.
“While you can’t fix all the problems, you can at least make the corner you live in a little bit better,” Cotter said.