News 4 Investigates: Police Crashes - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Police Crashes

Tulsa Police Capt. Travis Yates calls it "the dirtiest little secret in law enforcement today."

Yates, who runs the Precision Driving Unit for his department, is talking about the lack of behind the wheel driver training for police officers. Many police departments, including some of the largest in our area, do not require officers to get ongoing training in a vehicle after they graduate from the police academy.

"I routinely talk to officers who haven't had training in decades," Yates told me during a break at The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association conference in Chicago.

"The one thing officers do every day is drive," said Yates.

How scary is that?

"It should be scary to everybody," he told me.

The metro-east crash that killed the Uhl sisters clearly shows the risk facing the community if a police officer is driving too fast and loses control behind the wheel.

Police pursuits are also dangerous for the officers involved in the chase.

Vehicle crashes have replaced shootings as the leading killer of police in the line of duty, according to a report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

During my visit to the ILEETA conference in Chicago, I used a simulator designed to re-create potentially dangerous conditions facing officers on the road. The simulator made me feel like I was driving on wet, even icy pavement. Vehicles moved in every direction and at different speeds as I pursued a suspect.

I failed every test.

I drove too slowly. I drove too fast. I failed to see the car behind the tractor trailer until it crashed into the side of my cruiser.

Clearly, it's not the same as driving a real car with a scanner and two-way radio blasting in your ear, traffic moving around you at a high speed and your adrenaline level off the charts.

But it gave me a feel for the challenges facing police who are in the driver's seat during a pursuit where many lives are at risk.

It's intimidating and I'm sure many officers get scared in those situations.

It would scare me.

The time I spent in the simulator also reinforced my belief that even officers who are good drivers need continuing training behind the wheel.

"The most dangerous thing to an officer right now in America is driving," Yates told me.

As we discovered in the crash that killed Jessica and Kelli Uhl, it can be dangerous, even deadly for the rest of us too.

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