Vail Police let Vail Daily reporter behind the wheel of one of their Ford Explorers | PostIndependent.com

Vail Police let Vail Daily reporter behind the wheel of one of their Ford Explorers

Randy Wyrick
rwyrick@vaildaily.com

Editor's note: The Vail Police Department, which usually has really good judgment, invited Vail Daily reporter Randy Wyrick to drive one of their really expensive Ford Explorer patrol units in high-speed training. This is his story.

When a Vail police sergeant asked if I wanted to ride in a patrol car, my reply came faster than Richard Petty gets his right foot down.

"Front seat or back seat?"

"Front … this time," replied Det. Sgt. Luke Causey.

I love trying something new.

And so, in the name of The Public's Right to Know, the Vail Police Department let me climb behind the wheel of one of their patrol units and hit the gas. I hit almost everything else, too.

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Two things are true about police and police cars:

1. The police drive better than you do.

2. Police cars are faster than your car.

Early NASCAR drivers, like Petty and Cale Yarborough, started on the other side of the law. However, a car modified to haul moonshine, as those early NASCAR race cars were, weighs about the same as a Vail PD cruiser.

Vail police drive Ford Explorers. A long time ago, Vail and Aspen police drove Saabs, but we all have some youthful silliness in our rearview mirrors.

Their police Fords are big, strong vehicles with beefed up cop engines, cop suspensions and cop transmissions. Then the police add about a half a ton of cop equipment.

And it's still faster than your car. That's because police drive better than you, unless your name is Lewis Hamilton and you drive Formula One cars for a living.

Officers are really pretty talented drivers, and they practice all the time, which you probably do not, sort of like the viola lessons your mom made you take when you were a kid.

Police officers display that talent with their control over the steering wheel and brake pedal.

A gas pedal is fun, but it's generally only a good idea at the time, like most tattoos and all political affiliations.

"Anyone can go fast in a straight line. It's fairly simple," Causey said.

Training to high standards

Most police in our spiral arm of the universe train to the same high standards. A couple of intergalactic police organizations keep track of this stuff. Officers have to be able to navigate a designated course in a specific amount of time.

"That way, everyone meets the same level and standard," Causey said.

Like all great athletic and intellectual pursuits, they break the big thing into smaller parts, replicating most of the stuff they'll encounter in your average police chase — and here's hoping they do not encounter you.

The twisty parts of the course train them to chase you through alleys and tight spots. Let's be clear, if the police are chasing you, they're not in a tight spot, you are.

I drove with Causey, who drives better than me. He's originally from Louisiana and also makes better gumbo than me, but you won't hear me admit that in public.

My instructions were crystal clear: Do what he does, drive where he drives, and pay attention. I was zero for three.

"Were you paying attention at all?!?" Causey asked, laughing, when I wheeled the police Ford into what would likely be the Children's Fountain in Vail Village.

"As closely as someone can who has the attention span of an Irish setter puppy," I said.

No practice, still perfect

Police don't get to practice the course. They show up and run it cold. The reason should be obvious.

"We don't have an opportunity to practice when we're running to some sort of emergency," Causey explained patiently.

They have to be able to drive to the scene with due regard for the safety of everyone present and get to where they're going in a reasonably quick time, without having a crash along the way, Causey said.

If an officer gets into an accident, it takes three people out of the equation.

1. The person who got into the accident.

2. Someone to check on them, to make sure they and everyone else are OK.

3. A third person to go do the job they were supposed to do in the first place.

Because it's not OK for an officer to have an accident on the way to a call, the standard is zero cones knocked down during training.

"If we train to that standard, we'll perform to that standard," Causey said.

In other words, every time I hit a cone, I flunked. My scorecard looked like a Sesame Street bit: "F is for Flower and Flour and Flunk."

Maybe I was unconsciously looking for extra credit on my score, but you do not get extra credit for putting superfluous points into a three-point turn. My three-point turn turned out to be about 20 points.

Causey and the others officers smiled.

"With your level of expertise, you'd be ready to hit the mean streets in about 2025," Causey said.

Backward as breakneck speed

They also drive backward at amazing speeds.

You know that backward stunt-driving stuff in the movies? The police can do all that without running into anything.

Like much of life, it's better to go forward than backward. But there was this one part where they drove in reverse while weaving through a series of cones.

Looking in the rearview mirror, I noticed several things while trying to drive backward really fast:

• First, my hair is fabulous.

• Second, I should have been paying more attention to where I was going.

• Third, when you back over multiple orange cones and they get wedged into the wheel well of your police Ford, they make about the same sound as important evidence being destroyed when it's also being dragged over the asphalt.

If you find yourself in a vehicular conundrum with your constabulary, I'll leave you with this bit of advice.

Just get out of your car when they tell you, put your hands flat on the hood, and assume the position.

You're busted.

Vail Daily Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.