Police Practice Chase Skills

Holland — Every driver knows the scenario: Flashing red and blue police lights appear in the rearview mirror, and suddenly, traffic parts on either side to make way for the speeding patrol car.

Many wish they could drive that fast and get away with it.

But the truth is, learning to do it safely is a whole lot of work.

That’s where the West Michigan Criminal Justice Training Consortium comes into the picture.

City and county police agencies from Manistee south to the Indiana state line — including Holland — team up each year to provide road training for officers so they can practice safe driving skills and vehicle handling in high-speed or other at-risk scenarios.

Officers must learn to expect the unexpected: Kids might run out into the roadway; cars might fail to yield; and a suspect might decide to hit the accelerator and take off instead of braking for a traffic stop.

“We obviously put people at risk when we run lights and sirens,” said Joel Maat, an officer with the Holland Department of Public Safety.

The training at the West Michigan Criminal Justice Training Consortium is largely grant-funded through state money the agencies obtain as a group and takes place each fall and spring at the Grattan Raceway in Belding and the Gingerman Raceway in South Haven. The goal is to get officers in each department through training every two or three years.

Maat, who serves as a driving instructor, said there is a bit of apprehension for some as their skills are under close watch, but there is also a sense of competition in navigating courses set up around the track.

Officers joked with one another as they slipped behind the wheel.

“It’s real world stuff — up hill, down hill; there’s hairpin turns and ‘S’ curves,” he said.

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