2017-11-23 / Front Page

The tradition of the CHP

Techniques of law enforcement continue to evolve

CHP Officer Rick Horrocks conducts a sobriety test on an “impaired driver” recently at the California Highway Patrol Academy in West Sacramento. 
Photo by Greg Little CHP Officer Rick Horrocks conducts a sobriety test on an “impaired driver” recently at the California Highway Patrol Academy in West Sacramento. Photo by Greg Little Editor’s note: Greg Little, editor of the Mariposa Gazette, spent a day recently at the California Highway PatrolMedia Boot Camp” in West Sacramento. This is the second in a three-part series about his experience.

CHP Officer Landon Calhoun helps lead the segment on mental health training for officers. This large, interactive screen helps in the training exercises. 
Photo by Greg Little CHP Officer Landon Calhoun helps lead the segment on mental health training for officers. This large, interactive screen helps in the training exercises. Photo by Greg Little It’s no secret driving under the influence of alcohol is a big problem in California.

It’s also no secret it’s a big problem in Mariposa County and in most areas around the state.

DUI enforcement is one of the main goals of the California Highway Patrol.

At the CHP Academy in West Sacramento, cadets undergo 42 hours of DUI training.

During the recent “Media Boot Camp” which I attended at the academy, part of the process was learning how that is accomplished.

The process

For me, I knew a lot went into the process, but I had no idea just how much.

First, when officers work an accident, many of which involve DUIs, there is a certain way they have to set out cones. They always face traffic when setting them out.

Additionally, they make every effort to work on the passenger side of the vehicle in order to lessen the chance of another driver hitting either the CHP vehicle or the vehicles involved in the accident.

Officer Rick Horrocks is an academy instructor in DUI and drug recognition techniques.

Here are some of the things they learn: introduction to driving under the influence violations, alcohol physiology, recognition of signs and symptoms, standardized field sobriety testing, drug and alcohol laws, implied consent laws, administrative per se procedures, preliminary alcohol screening device, arrest procedures, report writing, courtroom testimony and written and practical testing.

But those are just some.

Horrocks allowed some of the journalists to participate in what it’s like to be on the scene of an accident when a DUI is suspected.

In this case, Officer Mike Davis played the “drunk” at the scene. Actually, as Davis was play acting, he told the journalist/officer he had used marijuana a couple of hours earlier.

The use of marijuana is an issue which is going to play more prominently in the role of the CHP at the first of the year. The sale of recreational marijuana becomes legal on Jan. 1.

During his talk at lunch, acting CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said that is an area in which the department has been focusing.

“We want to try to get ahead of it,” said Stanley .

How to do that remains a major topic. There are guidelines for impaired driving in the state, however, specific marijuana guidelines have not been developed.

During the accident training, Horrocks said the most obvious sign is smelling the odor of marijuana.

However, he also said there are some field tests that can be performed.

He spoke of a “lack of convergence” of the eyes, meaning they will “start to cross” if someone is under the influence and a field test is being conducted.

One thing he did stress that when field tests are being conducted, the cadets are drilled about making sure the suspect understands what is happening.

“You always have to ask if they understand,” said Horrocks.

Even though the setting at the academy was obviously “staged,” those in charge made it as realistic as possible. They also stressed this is an important aspect of training the cadets because it is a subject they will deal with time and time again.

Recognizing a situation

Besides dealing with DUIs, another major focus of the CHP is handling people with mental illnesses.

As part of the boot camp day, my group was sent to the “Mental Illness Response Program” to find out the latest techniques being employed by the CHP.

Officer Mike Harris explained the CHP has put a specific emphasis on mental illness training, even being recognized nationally as a leader in this field.

The cadets have to undergo 15 hours of training and then after graduation, there is additional training.

Inside the sterile room at the academy is the latest in technology that is utilized in this training.

A huge video screen sits on the far wall and you can’t miss the life-size projections on the screen.

The CHP has developed an interactive program where officers are trained and those people on the screen can actually interact. Harris said a new program is now in the works to make it even more realistic.

In the scenario that played out on Nov. 8, an officer first talks to a school bus driver who said a woman was on the bus and she was not going to come out. He told the officer she had some type of pills.

Officer Landon Calhoun demonstrated how the program works.

He entered the bus and began talking to the woman, who had a pill bottle in her hand. She told him her life was a mess and she was not going to leave the bus.

The scenario played out for a few minutes as the officer made every attempt to reason with the woman. In the end, he was able to convince her he could help and she surrendered the pills and left the bus with the officer.

The CHP officials stressed they make every attempt to get a positive outcome. They also said because of the growing awareness of mental illness, it is understood some people need to be taken to mental health facilities rather than jail .

Harris said the CHP has four goals when it comes to such scenarios: How to identify the problem, how to communicate, how to deescalate and voluntary compliance.

A solemn ceremony

After this part of the training — and lunch in the cafeteria — we were all allowed to watch the “Fountain Ceremony” conducted by the cadets.

The ceremony plays out each Wednesday at the academy and honors those CHP officers who have died in the line of duty.

All of the cadets participate and get into military style formations.

A fountain in the middle of the courtyard has a ring of brass plaques with the name of each officer who has died in the line of duty.

A group of cadets, in formation, go to those plaques and then are tasked with polishing each one.

Once complete, a close inspection is done by their commander and then another inspection is done by an even higher ranking commander.

Officer Adrian Perez of the Mariposa CHP office said he remembers vividly participating in the ceremony during his days at the academy in the early 2000s. Perez said the ceremony remains sacred and a solemn reminder of the dangers that come with being a member of the CHP.

Something else that became obvious during the ceremony was the tradition of the CHP and how the organization takes it quite seriously.

Inside the administration building at the academy are plaques which list each graduating class. Entire walls are lined with the plaques.

Perez even found the plaque with his name engraved, joking that it was on an out-of-theway wall in a far corner of the building.

But no matter how far removed a plaque might be, it seemed obvious every name on every plaque is important to the CHP — and its traditions.

Next week: The fun stuff enforcement, driving and shooting.

Greg Little is Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at greg@mariposagazette.com.

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