A year or two after my field training (FTO) I came across an opportunity to become a vehicle skills instructor for my department. I called the Director of Continuing Education to confirm the possibility that they would bring me over to help teach classes after my instructor certification, and his answer was “Yes”. The problem was, how to get certified.
Our department used to utilize a fixed permanent unit assigned to the academy to teach each recruit class. The unit had an agreement with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center or FLETC in Cheltenham Maryland where the class would be taught. FLETC had a great location to train, they had a private track, skid pad, urban area, and plenty of well equipped classrooms to make teaching the class enjoyable for both the recruits and the instructors. That was about to change.
Apparently our departments Chief at the time had a disagreement with the current Director over at FLETC and the result was the immediate end of our mutual agreement of our department from utilizing the their facilities. The vehicle skills program went from training 20-30 recruits on a multi million dollar federally funded track and facility, to a parking lot at a stadium. This is what I had to look forward to.
Getting the certification was my responsibility, my department didn’t care where or how I received it, they just wanted to see the certificate and they weren’t paying for anything. I began calling different departments to see if they had an instructors course coming up, they all laughed at me. At the time, funding was very tight and budgets were shrinking rapidly, which left me in a tough spot. I went online and looked into getting certified through FLETC. They had a class coming up but it was at their main facility in Glynco, Georgia but it was over $3k. Talk about a punch to stomach. I exchanged email with a really nice lady there who urged me to apply for a scholarship, which I did, and 2 weeks later I was waiting in a witness waiting room at court when I received the email stating I was accepted into the Federal Law Enforcement Driver Instructor Program (LEDITP-204) Class 204 and granted the scholarship, awesome! The only thing that wasn’t covered was transportation to FLETC and the time I had to take off of work to attend the 2 week course.
I flew into Jacksonville, Fl and rented a car, pointed it northbound on I95 and rocketed to Glynco. I checked in and they told me my dorm was in the new area of campus, students refer to these dorms as “The Taj” short for Taj Mahal due to it being very nicely equipped compared to other dorms federal agencies use. It reminded me of a Holiday Inn Express, it was really nice considering other Federal agencies were using old crappy looking bungalows to call home. I passed out early for the 0600 class start the next day.
The course was two weeks long and had very strict performance standards. If one training event required students pass with a 80% instructors had to do it at 90%, if a student was allowed to hit one cone, we couldn’t hit any. Students came from all over the country. We had Air Force OSI, Navy NCIS, Cleveland PD, couple of local guys, Cincinnati PD, and a couple of Florida HP. I was by far the youngest guy in the class.
The first week we knocked out all the written and practical examinations that they required the regular students to complete, it was a brutal week of hearing all the basic stuff that everyone who completed a LE vehicle skills course heard before, but week two was AWESOME. Week two the instructors opened up tracks and as instructor trainee’s we were allowed to “test the cars out”. Basically what this meant was to pick any car from their fleet, and go test your limits on a closed track for almost 5 hours. At the end of the day they had contract employees come up and ask you what vehicle you would like for the next exercise, how much gas you wanted in it, new tires or old etc. It was a car guys paradise. It was by far the most fun I had while wearing a badge.
We had a night pursuit course where they opened up an unfamiliar track in the pitch black Georgia woods and we had to chase the rabbit (bad guy car). The chase started with a primary police car and a secondary car. The primary police vehicle was tasked to maintain eyes on the rabbit, while the secondary car follows the primary and calls out the turn by turn to the dispatcher. This allows the primary vehicle to concentrate on the rabbit. The night course started with the primary and secondary vehicle getting the imaginary call on our car radios of a felony vehicle wanted for a felony and gave description of the vehicle, and what do you know the vehicle was driving right in front of us, I was the primary vehicle and I turned my lights and sirens on and the chase began. The chase started on the same familiar track that our class was on for the last week, so we knew all the turns and how fast we could take them. The rabbit was a supercharged 1990’s Chevy Caprice SS and we were in the new Ford Police Interceptors, definitely and unfair chase, but thats how it is on the streets, unfair.
The rabbit then made a turn down a unfamillar road, and I thought to myself, “well this is gonna be fun”. The rabbit card opened it up and the distance between us started to increase when out of the corner of my eye I saw something walk into the tree line. When I said I saw something, it wasn’t a animal, it looked like a human being, the reason why this was weird was because it was midnight, we were at least a couple of miles DEEP in the woods on a dirt road, the last thing I would expect to see was another human being. The funny thing about it was I was going around 70 mph trying to keep up with the rabbit and I swore to myself that the person had fur all over it.
I know, I know what your thinking but that was the truth, I saw what I saw. When the exercise was over we had a group de brief and the cadre asked everyone for their input, everyone was really happy with the exercise. I looked around to see if any of the other students were talking about any possible sightings or anything unusual, nothing, so I kept my mouth shut about what I saw.
The cadre asked our class if anyone saw any animals on the track so they can keep a record of animals observed by students and forward it to the safety department. Everyone shook their heads no, when one of our lead instructors jumped out from a nearby bush wearing a Bigfoot costume! We all jumped and laughter erupted. “Why didn’t you guys say anything?” one instructor asked. “I didn’t want to be the first guy that said he saw Bigfoot out here and everyone think I’m crazy.” said one of the students with a thick southern accent. The laughters continued all the way to graduation a few days later.
What was your vehicle skills class like?
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