By Stephanie Olson
I have admired the work police officers do since I was young. Two of my cousins serve their communities in the police force, so naturally I grew up thinking police officers were the coolest. When I heard about the opportunity to volunteer with the Hillsborough Police Department, I jumped at the chance to show my appreciation to a community of professionals who give so much of themselves to keep our communities safe. Plus, I was going to get to spend a day with friends watching cars speed through a track of obstacles—what a fun way to spend a Friday!
The driver safety course is a yearly training opportunity organized by Hillsborough’s town manager, Eric Peterson. During the all-day training, driving instructors teach police officers how to safely handle their vehicles. Our day started off with officers pushing their cars to the limit, learning to recognize the signs of losing vehicle control. Next, distractions—like inflatable deer, stoplights, and a even a remote-controlled dog!—were added to the course to test officers’ decision making abilities while driving. Finally, officers responded to a dispatch, which added an extra layer of complications and helped officers recognize their limits and how to safely respond to emergencies.
Before the police driver training, I never knew the challenges officers face while patrolling in their vehicles. During our lunch break, one of the officers took me out on the course, explaining all of the devices he has to pay attention to in his car when responding to emergencies. There’s a camera, laptop, radio speaker, hand-held radio, and siren switches on top of all of the typical car parts. I’m sure I’m missing something; I was overwhelmed just hearing about all of the car’s gadgets!
Police officers spend a majority of their time in police cars, patrolling and sometimes engaging in car chases. Driver training courses like this one can save cities money on insurance policies, decrease officer-involved driving accidents, and even save lives. After witnessing this training, there is no way I can deny its importance. This is why I encourage MPA students—future community leaders—to get involved in unique experiences like this to learn first-hand what best practices look like.
To top off my awesome day, I got a chance to take a spin around the course! While my instructor was great, I think it’s safe to say being a police officer is not in my future. On behalf of the UNC MPA program, I want to thank Eric Peterson and the Hillsborough Police Department for such a fun and insightful day. And also, a huge thank you to ICMA for providing students with opportunities like this to learn from our community leaders.