Officers Test Driving Skills During Chase Simulation

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Gila County Deputy Rodney Cronk was put to the test last week when he went in pursuit of bank robbers he saw fleeing from a bank while on patrol.

Cronk was taking part in a police officer simulated exercise June 27, in which he and other law enforcement personnel were put through possible real-life pursuit scenarios to test their driving skills under pressure.

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Gila County Sheriff's Deputy Rodney Cronk tests his driving skills during high pressure situations Tuesday, using a driving simulation program designed for law enforcement.

Gila County Sheriff's Office deputies got some firsthand training on situations that could arise through the simulation program.

The program, housed in a trailer that travels around the state, arrived in Payson June 26 to give law enforcement officers some experience without going out in the field.

Craig Smith, general driving instructor for the sheriff's office, called the simulator a great training device.

"This is a $400,000 video game," he said. "Guys get to come out here to test their skills. This is a learning experience."

The simulator offers seven different scenarios and weather conditions can be changed through the use of a computer.

He said the pursuits in the simulation still need to adhere to sheriff's office policies.

Some of the scenarios included pursuing a bank robber and a man who killed a store clerk in a robbery.

While Cronk drove through the training exercise, Smith worked the controls, first making it appear to rain, then snow.

Smith watched what Cronk was seeing and doing on the computer that he used to control the situations.

Smith called up a scenario where the officer's car engine overheated and another time had a tire blow out as Cronk traveled down a street on patrol.

"We were really testing to see how fast you can go when driving a car," Smith said when talking about tire blowouts. "You can't do that with a real car."

Cronk had to adhere to all the normal rules of the road in the test, such as avoiding pedestrians and other vehicles.

"You would be surprised at how realistic this simulator is," Cronk said as he pursued the motorcycle rider who had killed a store clerk.

Smith said the test can present officers with situations they have never faced before.

Cronk -- when not fully concentrating -- did on occasion hit a sign, pedestrian or another vehicle in the exercise.

"We back up, and say how could this have been avoided?" Smith said. "(Nearly) 85 percent of the time, things can be avoided."

Smith said the simulator training exercise is not a pass or fail test for police officers.

"This is a learning experience," he said.

The last exercise Cronk and Smith did together was a two-car pursuit, which involved several factors.

"There is a lot of stuff to watch," Smith said. "Officers have to keep their policy in mind. Officers in a pursuit of this nature would need to keep in constant touch with supervisors."

As a motorcycle sped away and out of view, Smith said that is when officers need to realize the pursuit is over.

"There's a lot more to it than chasing a person in a car," he said.

"Our policy says slow down in the intersection."

When Smith got behind the wheel of the simulator, he pursued a red Viper at speeds exceeding 100 mph.

The pursuit ended when Smith did a pit maneuver, which involved tapping the Viper with his car, causing the Viper to spin out.

Fifteen to 20 Gila County deputies trained with the simulator in the three days it was in Payson.

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