Driving it Home
More than 80 instructors fill the classrooms at the Department of Criminal Justice Training, teaching fresh recruits and seasoned professionals everything from how to properly handcuff a suspect to how to handle the most frantic callers.
The professionals who share their wisdom and skills with students have wide and varied backgrounds. Their expertise and professionalism make DOCJT’s instructors among the highest caliber law enforcement and telecommunications trainers in the country.
Through this series, we will introduce you to the men and women who are leading the way today for a safer and better Kentucky tomorrow.
Jeff Knox, Vehicle Operations Training Instructor
AT A GLANCE...
Years at DOCJT:
12 years this November
Years in Vehicle Operations:
I have been in Vehicle Operations for nearly eight years and worked in Physical Training/Defensive Tactics for four.
Holds a Bachelor of Science degree
in Police Administration from
Eastern Kentucky University
Favorite class taught:
My favorite class to teach is
Emergency Vehicle Operations.
It’s often said that experience is the best teacher, and that’s a lesson Department of Criminal Justice Training Vehicle Operations Training Instructor Jeff Knox reinforces daily on the driving track.
“I try to share my experiences to keep them alive,” Knox said of the officers he trains. “Vehicle operations and traffic stops, to me, are two areas that are extremely high risk for these guys. So when I’m teaching traffic stops I’m going to say to every class, ‘When you go out there today, this could save your life on your first night at work. Because that first night of mine, I was involved in a pursuit and a high-risk traffic stop.”
Knox began his law enforcement career with the Bowling Green Police Department after graduating from Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in police administration. The very first night he drove a police car in his new community, Knox said he was assigned to a field training officer with five years’ experience under his belt who had never been in a pursuit.
“He threw me his keys and said, ‘Rookie, don’t wreck my car,’” Knox said. “Two hours later we’re in a pursuit. And that’s kind of how my career went. Trouble always seemed to find me.”
Knox initially had planned to pursue a career in the military, but during his senior year of college he was diagnosed with diabetes. Limited by his condition, Knox said the diagnosis geared him toward the other career he had considered – policing. He recalled being pulled over for a traffic stop in college that reinforced his interest in law enforcement.
“I was stopped by a police officer in Winchester, and I was so impressed,” Knox said. “He did a great job and was very professional. He gave me a ticket and I actually thanked him for it. My brother had served in EMS, and I just wanted to serve more than anything.”
Knox, a Powell County native, attended a career fair and met a recruiter from Bowling Green Police Department.
“The first time I went to Bowling Green they hired me,” he said. “I was hired by [former DOCJT Leadership Branch Manager] J.R. Brown, he was my captain. I remember I went in and he gave me all my stuff, including my badge, and I shined on that badge probably 10 hours that week. I was so looking forward to law enforcement.”
Knox spent just shy of 12 years of his career at Bowling Green, where he rose through the ranks working as a patrolman for 10 years, a bike officer, crime-scene processer, field training officer, advanced patrolman, master patrolman and detective with the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force, and eventually, as a sergeant on midnight shift.
“As a patrolman I had worked with the task force a lot in the low-income part of town where there was a lot of drug activity,” Knox said. “When the position came open on the task force they approached me and asked if I was interested. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ That was the greatest job ever.”
When he was promoted to sergeant, Knox said he was transferred to the midnight patrol shift, where he led a hard-working group of officers.
“I really liked the drug task force, but when you’re looking at a career, at that point I was thinking, ‘Well, I know I want to promote someday,’” he said. “I went on midnight shift and had a bunch of really good guys, young guys, and then I had three or four senior guys who worked for me who were kind of showing the young guys the ropes, and that worked out perfect. Every night we went out we wanted to go arrest the bad guy. And that’s the mentality we had the whole time I was down there. I wanted to fight crime. It’s an outstanding place to work.”
“Some nights we would have 30 to 40 calls backed up waiting because we were so busy,” Knox continued. “I was enjoying my career, but I started having some diabetic seizures on duty. I knew I had to make a change, because third shift does not work well with diabetes. I needed a good schedule.”
In November 2004, a position opened at DOCJT for a training instructor in the Vehicle Operations Section, and Knox took the job.
“I know where the new recruits are headed and how excited I was while I was in the academy,” Knox said. “I can see that in their eyes, and I want to be a positive influence. I want to say, ‘Hey, this is a great profession. I loved it. If I could, I would go back today, I really would.’”
Working in Vehicle Operations is a somber responsibility given the number of officer deaths stemming from accidents, pursuits and other vehicle-related incidents.
“We lose more officers every year, it seems like, in driving or collisions than we do in shootings,” Knox said. “Firearms are extremely important, but I emphasize to every recruit class I get that, ‘I’m going to give you the most dangerous piece of equipment you’re going to get as a police officer.’ They just kind of look at me like, ‘No, my gun is more dangerous.’ No, it isn’t. I’ve got 4,000 pounds I’m getting ready to give them control of.”
Once recruits graduate the academy and receive keys to their new mobile offices, Knox said the emphasis on driver training shouldn’t stop.
“If you’re not practicing police driving, it’s going to catch up to you and your department,” he said. “Driver training can be done; you don’t need a big track.”
Knox suggested using the police department parking lot to simply practice reverse driving – a skill that leads to more than 60 percent of police accidents, he said. Recognizing the physiological effects on adrenaline and blood pressure that occur when lights and sirens are activated, Knox encouraged practicing with them on to be prepared for how your body will react. If the police department parking lot isn’t large enough, Knox suggested getting the necessary permissions from someone with a large parking lot to practice these and other skills, such as slow-speed precision driving.
“I think this is extremely important, too, police officers get killed at intersections,” Knox said. “We always have taught here, as you approach an intersection – even though state law says you can slow down and go through the intersection with due regard – we make everyone stop, scan left, right, and left again as they go out in that intersection.
“There are two main reasons for that,” Knox continued. “First is that we’re getting killed at intersections. But second is, when you’re on an emergency run, brake fade is a huge problem. That’s when you’re driving fast and you’re on and off the brake, a gas builds up between the rotor and the brake pad. So when you come up to that intersection and you hit that brake, all that brake is hitting is that gas. If you come up to an intersection with any speed and hit that brake, you’re going right out in that intersection, and that’s where you’re going to get T-boned. So we reinforce that, as they come up to an intersection, they should change their siren tone, start slowing down, come to a complete stop, then scan left, right, left and then go.”
Although the majority of Knox’s career at DOCJT has been spent in Vehicle Operations, he also has served as a Physical Training/Defensive Tactics instructor. During his time in PT/DT, Knox took the lead on developing a class for dispatchers called “Minimal Space and Equipment.” The course taught dispatchers, who are confined to a desk during their shifts, some options for exercise they could do while answering calls. He also developed the Police Training Officer program, which replaced the Field Training Officer program.
While Knox is passionate about what he does, he said he is looking forward to retirement in a few more years so he can spend more time working on the Edgar Williams farm in Menifee County. Knox is a Kentucky Master Logger and spends every weekend logging on the farm with his 83-year-old father-in-law.
“I’m looking forward to doing something other than law enforcement,” he said. “I love it, but there comes a time [to retire] – my brother was a paramedic in Jefferson County and he retired, his wife retired and now he is back being a K-9 officer and serving on a SWAT team. My brother and I have always wanted to help, but after 27 years, I think it’s given me ample time that I can go out and do something I want to do while I still can.”