West Virginia State Police
Academy Provides Inadequate
Drivers' Training to Cadets and
Local Law-Enforcement Cadets

Issue Area: The West Virginia State Police Academy Provides Inadequate Drivers' Training to Cadets and Local Law-Enforcement Cadets.

The West Virginia State Police Academy located at Institute is responsible for providing every graduate with the basic skills required of a professional law-enforcement officer. An important skill of an academy graduate is the operation of a vehicle under a variety of circumstances and speeds. This includes routine operation, responding to emergencies and high-speed pursuits of persons fleeing the police. During training, however, Cadets are provided little or no training on the equipment they utilize the most: the police vehicle. Both State Police and local law-enforcement cadets (Basic Course Cadets) are provided over 75 hours of training in using firearms, equipment they rarely have to use. However, under the current training program State Police Cadets are provided 24.5 hours of training during the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC). Only thirty minutes of the training is dedicated to actual behind-the-wheel operation of the vehicle. By not providing the skills necessary for Cadets to operate a vehicle properly at routine or high speeds, the public is at greater risk should they encounter a law-enforcement officer, and the State is at greater risk of being sued for negligence. Table 1 below provides a comparison of national statistics on the number of law-enforcement officers killed by firearms and the number of officers killed as a result of traffic accidents.

Table 1
Officers Killed Nationally by Firearms and Automobile Accidents *

Officers Killed
Total Killed by Firearm
Automobile Accidents
Motorcycle Accidents
Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice
*West Virginia Statistics for the same time period (State Police only) are Two shooting deaths and one Automobile Death

Nationally the number of automobile accidents deaths is half the number of firearms deaths for the period. West Virginia officers however, do not receive half the number of drivers' training hours compared to firearms training hours.

Drivers' Training no Longer Provided to Local Law-enforcement Officers

As stated above, State Police Cadets are provided 24.5 hours of training during the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC). Only thirty minutes of the training is dedicated to actual behind-the-wheel operation of the vehicle. The remaining time is classroom training. The training, according to the Director, is conducted on the parking lot of the Academy and consists of low-speed technical skills driving, actual high speed pursuit and emergency response driving. This training has been conducted at larger areas, when available, to enable students to reach speeds more consistent with actual pursuit driving.

Moreover, there is no drivers' training facility available to the academy to provide consistent training in this vital area to all law-enforcement officers training at the academy. Basic Course Cadets, which consist of local law-enforcement officers, i.e., County, Municipal, Campus Security and DNR Officers, also train at the academy. These Cadets have not had the benefit of the limited EVOC training for the last two years. EVOC training for basic course cadets was eliminated by the Law-enforcement Training Subcommittee which sets the state's standards for training law-enforcement officers.(1) The elimination of this training for Basic Course Cadets and providing only a limited training program for State Police Cadets increase the risk of harm to West Virginia citizens and legal action against the state because law-enforcement officers are not trained adequately on the proper handling of a police vehicle. The potential for legal action against the State is the opinion of Legislative Services.

Benefits and Reasons for Providing Complete Training

The State Police Academy basic course objective is to provide the basic knowledge and skills required of a professional law-enforcement officer. However, if it is not providing drivers' training in the case of the basic course Cadets or complete drivers' training to the State Police Cadets, it is falling short of its goals. The benefits of providing enhanced drivers' training to State Police Cadets and basic course cadets would include:

The need for better training is recognized by the State Police Senior Staff. The training remains limited due to a lack of funds to build a proper training facility. One senior officer responding to our inquiries stated:

many young law-enforcement officers have never been exposed to large, rear wheel drive vehicles prior to being hired as policemen. Many of these individuals have grown up in households with small or mid-sized, front wheel drive vehicles, and have no basis in experience for handling such a vehicle under normal conditions, much less under stress in life and death situation. Turning these personnel loose on the highway without proper driver training can be likened to sending them into the field with a pistol and shotgun, with only a theoretical exposure to the use of a firearm. (Emphasis added)

The State Police has tried various methods to improve the quality of training for officers. One such attempt was training provided to two classes of cadets in 1994. A private contractor provided professional training to two classes of Cadets free of charge. The individuals trained were tracked by the company to determine if the training had an impact on the number of accidents the officers had compared to other classes which did not receive the professional training. According to the results published on the Internet, the trained group had 59 accidents with only 29 of those chargeable to the officer. There were only 4 officers injured and 8 civilians. The company claims this training saved the Department $164,402 in repair costs. The Superintendent of the State Police at that time was very enthusiastic and impressed with the results. Other attempts at improving training include using an abandoned air strip to allow cadets to reach speeds more consistent with real pursuits, but none of the attempts at improving the training have been proven completely successful.

Data provided by the West Virginia Board of Risk Management (BRIM) indicates that $616,765 was paid in expenses and indemnity relating to State Police traffic accidents from 1995 to 1999. The data includes all accidents and does not distinguish between collisions with animals, fender benders, emergency response or high speed pursuits. Four of the pay outs are over $50,000 with the highest being $290,558. This illustrates an additional cost to the State resulting from the operation of law-enforcement vehicles. This is not to imply that greater drivers' training would have prevented these incidents; however, serious accidents do occur and enhancing drivers' training would be a move in a positive direction. Table 2 below list the calendar year 2000 accidents which have occurred to date.

Table 2
West Virginia State Police Accidents for 2000

Type of Accident
Total for Calendar Year 2000
Chargeable to Officer 35
Not Chargeable to Officer 50
Pursuit Accident 13
Total Accidents for 2000 98

As with BRIM data all accidents are included.

Other State Programs
In order to assess the quality of the State Police Academy's drivers' training program, it is necessary to look at the training provided in other states. Other States have already seen the need for realistic drivers' training and have built facilities to provide more intensive drivers' training to law-enforcement officers. One of the most recent has been the State of Maryland which built a drivers' training facility to train all new law-enforcement officers and to train 20% of the states law-enforcement officers on a yearly basis. Maryland sites a number of reasons for developing this course, such as average State Police cost for collisions of $500,000 dollars per annum and high workmen's compensation payments relating to motor vehicle collisions. Other statistics cited include:

In addition to the above reasons, claims of negligent driver training were held actionable by Maryland courts in a 1986 decision. "As such, liability may extend to the State of Maryland through its law-enforcement training regulatory function."

The training provided by Maryland and other state programs which were reviewed is just the reverse from what is provided by West Virginia's State Police Academy. The majority of other states' time is spent actually driving the vehicle and building driver/pursuit skills, and a minimum is spent in the classroom. As an example, Oregon allows local law-enforcement cadets six hours of actual behind-the-wheel training. Some of these states such as Minnesota and Oklahoma have had driving facilities for over 20 years. Minnesota's program is run through the university system, and the State's Police Officers Standards and Training Board requires all new law-enforcement officers to attend a driving program. Minnesota's program is also self sufficient, operates year round regardless of the weather and trains private companies as well. Other states reviewed which have such facilities include Kentucky and Michigan. Additionally, the federal government trains all of its officers in advanced driving techniques.

Cost of improving the training

In order to significantly improve the training provided by the State Police Academy, funding would have to be provided. The most significant improvement would be the development of an actual drivers' training course to allow students to reach higher speeds and develop better maneuver skills. The costs of such a facility could range from moderate to very expensive dependent on the need to purchase property, construct buildings or construct just an asphalt course. The State Police has completed limited research regarding the cost and development of such a course.

One alternative to improving training quickly would be for the agency to contract with a private contractor or an out of state training facility to provide the training. The cost of training all state police officers would probably approach $500,000 as a one-time cost, but this still would not solve the problem of training local law-enforcement officers across the state nor would it provide periodic refresher training.

Another alternative would be the utilization of training simulators which feel and react as a police cruiser would act. Simulators cost less and are programmed with several real life driving situations but would not completely take the place of a drivers' course. Simulators would enhance the already existing training and provide advanced training on whether to pursue or not to pursue.

Finally, the agency could purchase a newer piece of training equipment call Skid Car. This is a hydraulic rack which attaches to vehicles and simulates the loss of control experienced during normal or emergency driving. The simulator and the Skid Car alternatives seem to be added merely as enhancements to an already existing drivers' training program and course but still could help. In the interim, training at the academy should be provided to all cadets, and the amount of time students actually spend behind the wheel should be increased significantly.

The drivers' training at the academy needs to be improved in order to protect the public from negligent driving and to protect the state from law suits. Many hours are dedicated to instruction on the safe handling of weapons, but vehicles can injure and maim like a weapon. Furthermore, vehicles are in use more often than firearms.

Other states have already determined the need for improved training and have taken the steps necessary to improve training and build adequate facilities. Improved drivers' training would eventually pay off through reduced damage claims by citizens, reduced injuries to law-enforcement officers and reduced vehicle repair costs. An initial investment in a drivers' training facility could be phased to include all emergency vehicle operators, school bus drivers', etc. The cost of the facility could also be shared by those who use the facility by instituting a user fee.

In order to offset costs for developing and operating a drivers' training facility for the states law-enforcement officers, other safe/defensive drivers' courses could be developed and provided for state and county employees who spend a majority of their time in a vehicle. Simply possessing a drivers' license does not ensure that individuals can handle a vehicle in difficult situations or that they will drive in a safe manner. With the exception of special licensing requirements, such as chauffeurs licenses, there are no training requirements for state employees. Employees are simply given the keys to a vehicle. Providing or requiring such drivers' training could ultimately reduce insurance costs for other state agencies and make state employees a model for other motorists.

Recommendation 1:
The West Virginia State Police should increase the amount of behind-the- wheel training time it provides cadets and should provide this training to basic class cadets.

Recommendation 2:
The West Virginia State Police should provide a study/plan of the cost to build a drivers' training facility. The plan should include what the agency needs to accomplish proper training and provide for future needs. In addition, the study should include a comparison of the costs to train cadets in an accessible private facility and a facility ran by a neighboring state. The study/plan should include how this could be accomplished, per diem costs, whether counties and local governments should share in the costs to provide this training and how to provide training to the state's law-enforcement community who have not received adequate training. The Committee on Government Operations should consider requiring the State Police to report this information back to the Committee in February, 2001.

Recommendation 3:
The Legislature should consider a state requirement for all law-enforcement officers to receive a minimum number of hours of behind-the -wheel training to ensure the law-enforcement community are trained properly.

Recommendation 4:
The West Virginia State Police should consider enhancing its drivers' training program with either driving simulators, an apparatus such as the skid car system or both.

1. A Subcommittee of the West Virginia Division of Criminal Justice Services and Highway Safety under the Department of Public Safety.