Former officer comments on police driving column
Skip Panowitz of Bel Air, a former Baltimore police officer, has a comment on my Monday Getting There column that was a little long to post. I thought it was worth sharing.
This is not a new situation. I remember clearly as a rookie city cop 40 years ago that we had driver training, including in-vehicle evaluation, while in the academy. The instructor commented that the record was so poor for the city that we would likely be fired if we were "professional" drivers.
He noted that during the civil disturbances of 1968 police cruisers were almost the only cars on the street and they were still colliding with each other. A few years later we were required to give up a leave day, with pay, to attend a driver training class because the accident experience was so poor. But officers were disciplined for accident frequency including giving up days off, paying for damages and/or being transferred to less desirable non-driving assignments (i.e foot posts, security details, etc).
I was very surprised to learn a few years ago, when police involved accidents became a news item in the Baltimore Sun and other local media, that little or nothing was being done to discipline officers with accident frequency records, or to improve driving skills in general. It appears things have not changed. Smaller cars have not seemed to help.
One issue that the city grappled with 40 years ago the same as now is that a lot of recruits have little or no driving experience before joining the department, especially those from urban environments. Current officers tell me that driver training does not seem to be a training priority. This is a big issue and a big concern as your article implies. Hopefully priority attention will be given to driver training soon. If not, this trend will not change.
I left the department to pursue a career that included driver training for emergency vehicle operators and others. I know changes can be made that will improve the driving skills of police officers and reduce accident involvement and the related costs -- personal injury and otherwise.