Flick your eyes up to your rearview mirror.
See those red, white and blue flashing lights? Your stomach jumps, your language spices up and then remorse sets in.
But you might take solace knowing that some Kansas City area students are learning how local police try to counter your angst while protecting their own safety and yours, and doing so within the law’s limits.
An American icon — the automobile — plays a role in the students’ studies.
The auto in this case is a retired patrol car that the Blue Springs Police Department donated in December to the Career & Technology Center at Fort Osage for its Law Enforcement/Crime Scene Investigation program. Fort Osage started the program five years ago and the center in 1967, school district spokeswoman Stephanie Smith said.
The center serves students from Fort Osage, Oak Grove, Grain Valley, Blue Springs and Blue Springs South high schools.
It also offers its e-studies program to 12th-grade students at William Chrisman and Truman high schools in Independence. That program is designed to help students plan, start and operate their own businesses, according to the center’s website.
On the Fort Osage campus, the patrol car helps the students learn much of what a patrol officer does on calls: Pulls over drivers and makes cautious approaches to their vehicles, makes arrests, conducts vehicle searches, directs traffic, protects accident scenes from passing vehicles and performs CPR if necessary. Students also learn to use the car’s equipment.
And they learn the proper method for an officer to identify himself or herself when pulling over a driver: by name and police department, said Cory DeVaul, the program’s instructor and a retired North Kansas City police officer. This is proper in any situation, he told his students, but it especially can smooth interaction with a driver who might be having a bad day.
“When you ask the driver, ‘Do you know why I pulled you over?’ you might hear, ‘You’re a jerk, because you pulled me over when there’s real crime out there,’ ” DeVaul told his students. “If I’m out here … I’m a target.”
The program targets juniors and seniors and has roughly 40 students, Smith said. Students attend either morning or afternoon classes and schedule their other classes around them.
The donation marks the first time the department has given a retired patrol car to a program like this, said Doug Heishman, crime prevention officer for the Blue Springs Police Department and a Fort Osage High School graduate.
“I wish they’d had a program like this when I was here,” Heishman said.
Some students expressed gratitude that the program is in place now.
Hugh Smith, a junior at Blue Springs South and a first-year program student, said he wanted to take the course to learn about law enforcement.
“I wanted to go into SWAT,” he said. “I knew I’d learn more about that in this program.”
Second-year students informally mentor first-year students, and DeVaul sometimes has students teach parts of classes to test their own knowledge of the material.
Kali Hanson, a junior at Grain Valley and a first-year program student, likes that DeVaul has firsthand experience with the subject he teaches.
“If I could stay here all day, I would,” Hanson said.
The car — a 2009 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor with about 90,000 miles on its odometer — will stay there all day, every day. It has everything it did when it was a working patrol car, except the police radio, Heishman said. That includes a siren; emergency lights; a prisoner cage separating the front and back seats; an engine with increased horsepower and improved acceleration and air-intake capacity, and beefed-up suspension.
Students in the center’s auto-maintenance program keep the vehicle in sound shape, under teacher supervision.
DeVaul’s supervision and the program’s content have boosted Berta Essman, a junior at Blue Springs South and a first-year program student. DeVaul requires that students show respect to him, and to one another. The required self-discipline and practical experience also foster a sense of accomplishment.
“I came into this class without self-confidence,” Essman said. “Now I have self-confidence. My whole perspective on life has changed because of this class.”