Dispatches from the Citizen’s Police Academy

The Gabber’s Debbie Wolfe will report from each session of the 2017 Gulfport Citizen’s Police Academy. This is part four of 11.

Police Chief Robert Vincent explains the features of a patrol car to members of the 2017 citizen’s police academy. One participant’s favorite part was watching the high-speed chase segment from the sidelines. “You get an appreciation of what they’re really doing,” said John Gustafson of Gulfport. “I never realized how talented the police [officers] are in driving and what they have to go through.”

Gulfport Police Sergeant Michael Vandenberg, left, gives citizen’s academy participants a tour of his patrol car. Chief Robert Vincent, center in the red shirt, answers questions about vehicle operations. Participants learned how to use a vehicle’s steering wheel while shuffling their hands to make a turn rather than crossing them over, how to swivel their heads from left to right to do back-up maneuvers rather than turning around to look out the back window and how to position side-view mirrors. “If you can see your vehicle in the side-view mirror, then it’s not positioned correctly,” said Vincent.

Regular police academy cadets taking the driving training segment experience “several demonstration runs, practice runs, then they have to pass tests that meet all the criteria,” said Police Chief Robert Vincent. “If they don’t make it, they get remedial training. If they still don’t make it, then they don’t pass the academy and they can’t be a police officer.” In this photo, a citizen’s academy participant at the wheel takes instruction from Police Chief Robert Vincent who is standing outside. The backing up and turning through an intersection segment of the course is the toughest to master for both citizens and cadets, said Vincent. Other segments included the figure eight turn-and-fast-stop, and the forward and backward six-cone serpentine.

As part of the high-speed chase segment of the Gulfport Citizen’s Police Academy on Thursday, February 9, Gulfport Police Sergeant Michael Vandenberg drives a white patrol car through the cone obstacle course at St. Petersburg College’s Southern Public Safety Institute, 3200 34th Street S., while a police academy participant drives Police Chief Robert Vincent’s unmarked black patrol car. Vincent was in the passenger seat of his vehicle for each run and calmly gave tips like, “Floor it!” “Go through the box,” referring to traffic cones that marked the boundaries of a standard street intersections. Dramamine and Sea Bands assisted this reporter-photographer while I made this photo out of the passenger window of Vandenberg’s patrol car. During my turn at the wheel of the chief’s vehicle and in the heat of the chase after Vandenberg, I was the one who tried to bypass the cones. I also ran over a few. At the end of the evening, no one got sick and we only broke one cone.

April Smith of Gulfport tries out the back seat of Police Sergeant Michael Vandenberg’s patrol car, which has almost no room for passenger legs. The police chief explained that the front seat is positioned for the comfort of the patrol officer. During driving maneuvers on the training course, citizen’s academy participants were given the opportunity to both ride and drive. “I liked the chase part where I was going after the bad guy,” said Smith. “He was nice enough to turn on his turn signal for me,” she said laughing.

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