Shortly after participating in his first-ever police pursuit on Thursday afternoon, Lompoc mayor Bob Lingl said it would likely also be his last.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lingl said after stepping out of a 6-cylinder Dodge Charger, “but it’s a lot of muscle car for someone like me who’s not experienced.”

Lingl was tasked with keeping up with Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh and a pair of professional drivers on the high speed track at Hancock College’s Public Safety Training Complex at its Lompoc Valley campus. The experience was part of an event put on by Dodge to allow law enforcement professionals a chance to test out its fleet of vehicles.

Walsh, who was among about 30 attendees from law enforcement agencies throughout Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, said he had a blast testing the acceleration, handling and braking, among other aspects, of the vehicles that he drove on the track.

“This is the fun part of the job,” he said. “And it’s important. More police officers are killed in car crashes than assaults or any other situation, so you’ve got to stay current on your driving skills.”

While the event did provide a great opportunity for the participants to brush up on their skills — there was a precision track set up with cones on a nearby parking area — the main purpose for Dodge was to show off and possibly sell its lineup of law enforcement vehicles, which ranged from sports cars to SUVs to pickup trucks.

On that front, representatives from Dodge seemed pleased with Thursday’s activities, which were broken up into a morning and afternoon session.

“It’s been great,” said David Callery, the manager of Dodge’s police car division. “It’s more than a 'ride and drive.' You can really, especially on the road course, push the vehicle to its limits and feel the handling and experience it in a lot more real-life situation than just riding in a parking lot.”

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, who spent about a half hour reviewing the specs in one of the Chargers, said he also appreciated that aspect of the event, particularly the amenities at the Hancock complex.

“From a training standpoint, (this course) is absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “It’s one of the real jewels and crowns of this facility here. It’s the envy of a lot of other training facilities across the country.”

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Brown noted that the Sheriff’s Office still uses Ford Crown Victoria vehicles. Even though that model has been discontinued, he said that the Sheriff’s Office still has about 12 to 15 new ones that will be put on the street soon. In about 18 months, he said, his department will begin shopping for new vehicles.

“These are very impressive cars,” he said.

Walsh said the Lompoc Police Department is in a similar situation and won’t really need to begin looking for new vehicles for another couple of years. He said that it’s nice to test the vehicles now, though, so he — as well as other law enforcement officials — can give feedback to improve the vehicles in that two-year span.

“Two years down the road when we go to buy cars, all the bugs should be worked out and this might be a good car to buy,” he said.

Walsh said Thursday marked the first time that he’s ever been in a pursuit involving a city mayor. He pulled out his cuffs and jokingly suggested he was going to book Lingl after they got out of their cars, but he said he was thankful the mayor was there.

“I’m just glad he came out here, because it’s nice for him to see the technology,” Walsh said. “And he was part of the council that helped create this whole (Public Safety Training Complex), so it’s nice for him to come and see what the cadets are getting to learn.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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