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Driven to become Nassau County police officers

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Part two in a photo series on the Nassau County Police Academy.

Sirens blared and tires squealed as a white Chevy Caprice banked hard into a curve at Jones Beach State Park after peeling down a straightaway at 50 miles per hour last Thursday. Meanwhile, a black Crown Victoria cruiser raced across to cut the vehicle off at a four-way intersection. The Caprice braked hard as it neared the stop sign.

Sirens continued to sound when a Nassau County police van appeared out of nowhere at the intersection, the driver also intending to cut off the Caprice. It was a semi-chaotic, seemingly confusing scene, but it was meant to be.

The action took place at the Field Five parking lot at Jones Beach, an expansive stretch of asphalt just west of the Northwell Health Theater, where Nassau County Police Academy recruits come to practice driving maneuvers that they might need while chasing crime suspects or hurrying to an accident. 

It’s called the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course, and orange cones are used to create streets and intersections. Recruits must master 12 specialized maneuvers to pass their police driving test — think your own driver’s test at high speed through a field of cones. Hit one cone and you fail.

“We try to teach the recruits to have good judgment,” said Officer Richard Furneaux, the senior driving instructor.

To drive as a police officer does, one must learn to drown out all the noise in your head and focus solely on the road ahead and behind you, while watching your sides. Officers must know when to pursue a suspect — and when to call off a pursuit, which is often necessary in order to protect public safety. A high-speed chase through suburban streets can be a recipe for disaster, Furneaux said, noting that police many times call in a helicopter to provide air support and follow a suspect until caught.

Lt. Eileen Carsten, who is in charge of physical fitness, defensive tactics and EVOC at the academy, said that driving is, in fact, the most dangerous part of being a police officer. More officers are killed and injured while driving than in any other part of the job.