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By: Erin Smith

The Bladen County law enforcement officers are working this week and next week on honing their driving skills at the Curtis L. Brown Jr. Field in Elizabethtown.  The course is being taught by Instructor Gary Turlington, Sgt. Barry Pait, Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker and Major Larry Guyton.

According to Instructor Gary Turlington, it is the only facility in Bladen County large enough to handle such a training session. The training is taking place on one of the taxiways of the airport while the runway remained open to flights.

The training taking place is designed to reduce the number of collisions involving law enforcement officers and to have officers to become more aware of their patrol vehicle and its capabilities in certain situations.

“This year we are putting a lot of emphasis on backing because 50 percent of all law enforcement-related crashes happen when they are backing,” said Guyton.

Until the last three years, crashes were the biggest killer of law enforcement officers nationwide but in the last three years, it has become firearms. A large number of law enforcement-related crashes are single-vehicle crashes and involve such things as too much speed or driving off the roadway.

The officers had to take their assigned vehicle and navigate five different type courses. The courses they had to navigate including a precision backing course, a serpentine, an offset lane course, a precision driving course and a high speed pursuit.

The courses were challenging and required close attention of the driver to avoid collisions. Pait said that the courses simulate situations an officer may encounter in a pursuit such as an object in the roadway.

For example, the precision backing course requires a deep level of concentration as one maneuvers the cones at speed, must stop, and then maneuver backwards through the objects and come to a stop in another lane. According to Turlington, there is roughly six inches of space between the cones and the side of the patrol vehicle. The object is to learn to maneuver the patrol vehicle in tight spaces without denting the vehicle.

Guyton said that, in addition to not striking the cones, the officers must perform certain tasks while on each course such as using the appropriate turn signals while on the course, remembering to blow the horn when they are backing, and remembering to check their mirrors and blind spots.

“We are looking for controlled driving. The goal is to do it quickly but we want the officers to know the limitations of their vehicle they drive. We are more concerned about controlled driving than we are speed,” said Guyton.

The officers are graded on how well they master the various skills. Guyton said there are points deducted from the driver’s score for things such as cones that are knocked down, failure to use an appropriate turn signal or blow the horn when backing.

“There’s a lot of friendly competition between the guys,” said Guyton.

It has been about 20 years since such a course was taught in the area. For some of the officers it has been as much as five years since they completed an actual “hands-on” training session. Each year officers have attended various classroom training sessions regarding driving and driving safety, but this is the first training session in several years where officers get to apply on a closed course what they are learning in the classroom. 

All of the law enforcement agencies in the county have been invited to attend the training course. There are plans to make the course an annual event and also plans are underway to develop a similar training course for Emergency Management. 

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