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Police academy recruits practice maneuvers on driving course

April 15, 2002|BY JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of occasional Sunday stories about eight local recruits in the Western Maryland Police Training Academy. Leading up to graduation in June, The Herald-Mail will introduce readers to the recruits and the tasks they face on the road to earning badges.

julieg@herald-mail.com

The first time Damian Broussard lost control of his roughly 4,000-pound training cruiser and fishtailed coming out of a corner, his heart skipped a beat.

"I took my foot off the gas," said Broussard, 37, of Hagerstown. "I wanted to put my foot on the brake, but you shouldn't."

The former was an involuntary reaction, while the latter was something the Washington County Sheriff's Department recruit had to remind himself not to do.

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Reminders and repetition were a big part of the lessons for Broussard and his 16 classmates in the Western Maryland Police Training Academy last week.

They spent four days at the Montgomery County Public Service Training Academy between Rockville and Gaithersburg, Md., learning how to react when their police cruiser skids on a slippery surface, how to maneuver through a cone course, and how to turn sharp corners quickly and safely.

Early in the lesson they heard constant shouting from instructors to stay off the shoulders rounding a turn, to brake, to accelerate and to correct their hand positioning on the steering wheel.

Then there was the golden rule of driving fast around a curve.

"Go in slow to come out fast," driving instructor Bernie Collins said.

Collins works for the Montgomery County Department of Police, which operates the driving range.

Often after a recruit made a turn, Collins could be heard yelling, "Go! Go! Go!"

Some recruits weren't driving fast enough for his liking.

"If you're out here driving to the store, you're not learning anything. Push the car," Collins reminded them during a break from driving.

The driving range is the place for the recruits to learn their limits and make mistakes - not on the highway when they are pursuing someone with civilian drivers nearby, the instructors emphasized.

Each agency the recruits would work for has its own pursuit policy, dictating when officers are to call off pursuits, Hagerstown Police Lt. Jack Hall said. Factors include the driver's skill, the time of day, the geography and the potential for injury to civilians, he said.

In a real pursuit, police cruisers could go as fast as warranted to keep up with the quarry and not endanger civilians, instructors said.

On the driving range, recruits' speeds were mostly in the 30- to 40 mph range, though Broussard said at one point he thought he was going close to 50.

The centrifugal force felt when taking a hard turn at 50 mph is comparable to what's felt when on the amusement ride known as "The Octopus," Hagerstown Police Officer Casey Yonkers said. As the ride's extended arms move in a circle, the buckets on the end of each arm that hold the riders are spinning around as well.

The recruits practiced various patterns on the 1/3-mile track, including different figure 8s with U-turns and 90-degree turns. They drove in four-minute intervals since the average pursuit lasts four to seven minutes, said driving instructor Steve Helton of Montgomery County Police.

The repetition paid off on Thursday when Broussard and his classmates passed their driving tests. During the test each recruit pursued an instructor. Another instructor rode along.

"It just seemed to flow rather easily after all that practice," Broussard said.

The driving exercises also gave the recruits a chance to get used to driving while wearing utility belts and bullet-resistant vests that could shift or feel restrictive at first.

An experienced police officer, Yonkers said he no longer notices his vest when driving.

The recruits also wore helmets while driving.

Wednesday night, the recruits made more practice runs and turns without the benefit of track lighting. That allows them to learn to drive within the limits of their headlights, Hall said. Without street lights, a driver can't see what's to the right or left before turning at night.

Broussard was having fun on the track Wednesday with the high-speed turns, but he knows a vehicular pursuit is serious.

"I'm sure in 25 years I'll have to do it at least once," Broussard said.

The son of a retired Maryland State Police trooper, Broussard knows how dangerous the job is. That's one reason his father, Bill, wasn't crazy about Broussard's early desire to be a police officer.

Damian Broussard said his father changed his mind after Damian returned from more than four years in the Air Force, including a stint in South Korea.

Broussard said his father saw how much he had matured.

When he returned from duty in 1990, Broussard held various jobs while applying to the Sheriff's Department's patrol division.

After seven applications, Broussard applied to the correctional division. He worked at the Washington County Detention Center for three years before applying and getting hired by the patrol division.

That kind of persistence should pay off with Broussard's supervisors and in handling his cases, his father said.

Broussard applied to the Sheriff's Department because it has some of the best police salaries in the area and allows him to stay in Washington County, he said.

Bill Broussard remained a trooper 1st class until retirement because he kept turning down promotional opportunities so he could keep his family in the area, he said.

"I grew up in Washington County. That's where I wanted to stay," Damian Broussard said.

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