A word of advice to those new to race management and a reminder to those who should know better.
Very few races in the northeast are on completely closed courses so staging events on completely open or partial closed roads is very common.
In spite of the title of this thread, the problem I'm going to describe was not the fault of the police.
While police are the best option for traffic control you should never rely on police to:
* manage your runners on the course by having police tell runners where to turn or not turn as the case may be.
* be the lead vehicle in a race unless there is someone else in the vehicle who absolutely knows every inch of the course.
Yes the police know the town and the streets but most often they do not know the exact course and as often as not will follow the traffic cones even if they have not been placed properly.
You can tell the lead vehicle where the course goes, give them a map but maps are often hard to read and so no matter what the officers have be told they will not be as wired into where the runners need to go as will a savvy volunteer.
Relative to traffic control, police are there to stop and redirect traffic and can not be expected to be watching where runners are going (or not going) when their focus is on traffic. Often traffic is unruly and drivers are upset, and cars often attempt to move when the police don't want them to, SO the police are watching cars, NOT runners.
There is a 4 way stop sign intersection which as become busier over the years so the race hired another police officer to direct traffic at the spot.
In prior years there was just a race volunteer at that spot. The volunteer coordinator (not a runner) thinking that the spot was covered by the police did not assign a volunteer there. This is one of the best volunteer coordinators I've worked but she had not run into this issue before.
I was out of state until race day so I hadn't known about the last minute addition of the officer at the trouble spot, but even then my role on race day didn't have me involved with where the potential issue would hit my radar screen. (assuming I would have even noticed the blip on the screen myself. I wasn't the RD btw, just helping another RD who has help me for years.)
The runners are supposed to go straight at this point in the course but when the officer pointed to a side road to tell some drivers they could go there, a pack of runners (none of whom knew the course) thought the pointing was for them and they turned and went way off course.
Just before that spot the road comes around a gentle corner so the next pack didn't see the runners turn and they went straight, either because it was logical or that pack leader had run the course before.
I always recommend that every police officer have a volunteer with them, a volunteer whose job is to watch and direct runners.
I also recommend that some form of ground markings be placed before and after turns for those times when no volunteer is present.
Any why might a planned volunteer not be at the turn?
Many reasons but the worse reasons are that you pulled them off their planned assignment to do something less important in the scope of the race.
Things like helping a slow shirt line and other things that seem like a thing to do but were a WRONG choice. Runners will forgive a slow shirt line but won't forgive bad course management. Every non-course thing you try to be accommodating about within an hour of the start of your race will increase your risk of screwing up your race course.
Is the mile one clock more important than a missed turn?
Having too few people at a water stop isn't good but it is better than having runners go off course.
Even delaying the start of a race while announcing that you need time to get a volunteer to an important turn is preferable to having runners go off course. Runners will accept safety and course control delays.
We have so many races around here that bad course management stories happen almost every weekend. It doesn't have to be that way, though the tendency for races to be so many other things beyond running does present tons of distractions during a very fast-closing stressful time window on race day morning.