2017-11-30 / Front Page

How skidding a CHP car is just like the Indy 500, sort of

By GREG LITTLE Editor


Adrian Perez, public information officer for the Mariposa office of the California Highway Patrol, takes aim during target practice recently at the CHP Academy in Sacramento. 
Photo by Greg Little Adrian Perez, public information officer for the Mariposa office of the California Highway Patrol, takes aim during target practice recently at the CHP Academy in 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 final in a three-part series about his experience.


Shown are CHP vehicles on the skid track at the academy in Sacramento. All CHP cadets are required to learn how to control the vehicles. 
Photo by Adrian Perez Shown are CHP vehicles on the skid track at the academy in Sacramento. All CHP cadets are required to learn how to control the vehicles. Photo by Adrian Perez


Sometimes, maybe too many times, I speak before I think.


Sgt. Wulf Corrington displays various types of guns at the academy in Sacramento. The guns pointing to the left are those confiscated by the CHP. The guns pointing to the right are those used by the CHP. 
Photo by Greg Little Sgt. Wulf Corrington displays various types of guns at the academy in Sacramento. The guns pointing to the left are those confiscated by the CHP. The guns pointing to the right are those used by the CHP. Photo by Greg Little Such was the case when more than three months ago I received an email from the local office of the California Highway Patrol saying I might be able to participate in the “Media Boot Camp” at the academy in November.

Heck, I thought, why not, so I jumped on the opportunity.

And then I saw a YouTube video from previous years as pathetic journalists like me were being screamed at during the physical training portion of the camp.

What had I done?

But then I watched more video as those pathetic journalists were able to drive cars sideways, play out enforcement scenarios and shoot guns.

I figured this pathetic 59-year-old body of mine could endure a little physical exertion if the reward was driving cars and shooting guns.

To my surprise, CHP officials in Sacramento selected me to participate in the camp, quite a high honor for a small fish weekly newspaper in the sea of large dailies. Not to even mention those over-glorified television stations with their hot reporters and fancy satellite trucks.

To shoot or not to shoot?

The first stop after lunch at the academy was the “enforcement tactics unit.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what this was, but just about everything else was interesting, so why not this?

Sgt. Alison Bushey was the main instructor and explained this portion of the cadet training focuses on use of force, use of firearms, patrol techniques, enforcement contacts and crimes in progress.

When they asked for a volunteer, I raised my hand. I’d held back earlier in the day on volunteering, knowing the afternoon was going to be the “good stuff.”

They explained to me I would be doing a traffic stop.

Then they outfitted me with a gun, extra rounds and mace.

The gun had blanks and the mace was just water, but it sure seemed real. It also seemed like they might be encouraging me to shoot given the fact they stressed I had extra rounds.

They put me in a CHP vehicle and then instructed me to approach the passenger’s side of the vehicle.

I did and asked the “driver” for his license and registration.

He began immediately to challenge my authority. He told me the CHP “always” is stopping him and giving him tickets. He finally did give me the documents and I went back to the CHP cruiser to get more information.

In just a few seconds, the “suspect” got out of his car and began coming toward me. I immediately pulled out my gun and told him to stop. He kept carrying on about how the CHP was out to get him and at one moment, his hand was behind his back concealing something.

Should I shoot or should I keep talking?

It was a difficult decision. But something inside of me told me he didn’t have a gun.

I told him to turn around and do a spread eagle formation on the back of the vehicle. He complied and put an iPhone (his weapon) on the trunk and said it was streaming live so the public could see the police brutality.

I told him to go ahead because I was a public employee and it didn’t matter.

In the “debriefing,” I was told I made the right decision. But it was also clear those decisions have to be made in a split second and sometimes, things can go sideways.

It was really an interesting experience, opening my eyes to the realities of what officers face on a regular basis.

So it couldn’t get any better, right?

Driving desire

From the moment I saw the YouTube videos, I knew the real fun was going to be driving the “skid car.”

For some background, I hail from the great state of Indiana, home to the Indianapolis 500 — the most famous auto race in the world.

Almost every young Hoosier dreams of one thing — driving in the 500. I was no different.

So right after my encounter with a bad guy, our group’s next stop was at the “emergency vehicle operations course,” which is just a fancy name for a place to drive cars sideways on a slick track.

The cars are specially fitted with “slick” tires, a term every racing fan knows.

The idea is to intentionally put the car into a spin and then straighten it back out using the steering wheel and accelerating at the same time.

My “partner” for this exercise was Elizabeth Zelidon, a reporter for Action News Now in Chico. I was so excited about this aspect of the camp I didn’t even get the name of my instructor. I just wanted to drive.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, for me, Elizabeth was up first. She was a really nice person — and a really bad driver. She never did get the hang of the technique and we spent most of the time going in circles and restarting the car because she killed it over and over.

But, she did shoot a live Facebook video during her time and for the first time in my life, I was live on Facebook. Not sure if that is good or bad. It just is.

Once Elizabeth was done, I knew my time had come.

I jumped out of the backseat and into the driver’s seat as my instructor began telling me what to do.

I don’t think I heard a word he said because I already knew the drill in my head. It was my time to be Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt rolled into one.

On the first turn I kept the vehicle under control. By about the third turn, I had it clearly figured out.

My unnamed instructor told me he was impressed. After a few laps, he told me I was a “bus driver.” It was because, unlike he had instructed, I was doing this with just one hand on the wheel. I credit my late father, Jim Little, for this. He was a truck driver and one of the best drivers I have ever known. I’m sure he would be smiling at my shenanigans on the track.

When I reluctantly exited the vehicle, officer Adrian Perez of the Mariposa CHP office, who helped arrange the camp and was so kind as to drive me to West Sacramento, commented on the “big smile” on my face. It was “perma-grin” and it’s still there every time I recall those wonderful 15 minutes of finally winning the Indy 500.

To shoot

The final stop of the day was at weapons training.

We were greeted by Sgt. Wulf Corrington, a 30-plus year veteran of the force who is now retired as he was in his last week.

“We are here to be prepared for something we hope never happens,” said Corrington.

The CHP is in the process of converting all officers to the M&P .40, a Smith & Wesson handgun that meets all of the requirements of the department, said Corrington.

He said when considering a new weapon, they tested this particular gun by firing 6,000 rounds from one gun in a day. That equates to 10 years of service, he said.

There were no issues, said Corrington.

The cadets at the academy are required to take 110 hours of weapons training. In addition, all CHP officers are required to train annually.

What is not required is to let a bunch of green-horn journalists actually shoot a gun.

But they did it anyway.

To put it into context, it has been a while since I have shot a gun. I guess 40-plus years constitutes a while, huh?

But I was the first in line to give it a shot, so to speak.

I had to don the Kevlar vest, put on ear protection and get a quick lesson on how the gun worked.

My instructor loaded the magazine and away I went. The gun had more kick that I thought it would. It was such a smallish looking thing and lightweight, but it was powerful.

When I pulled the trigger for the first time, it certainly got my attention. The first few shots missed low, though they did still hit the target. (Let’s not mention I was probably 15 feet from the target.)

But as I got the hang of it, there was improvement. In fact, the final three shots were inside the black in the middle of the target, one right in the center. The bad guy was dead.

I felt pretty good about myself, having not shot a gun since Richard Nixon was in the White House. (We all know how that turned out.)

The final countdown

After the weapons training, we all headed back to the mess hall for a wrap-up of the day’s events.

Sgt. Ricky Franklin talked to the group about the recruiting process of the CHP.

He said anywhere from 400 to 600 cadets go through the academy each year. He also said around 25 or so CHP officers are retiring each month.

With the CHP still recovering from the hard financial times in the late 2000s, there are still some shortages within the force.

The CHP is the fifth largest law enforcement department in the United States with over 7,000 sworn officers.

It ranks only behind the New York Police Department, Los Angeles city and county departments and the Chicago Police Department.

Franklin said the CHP is working hard in its recruitment efforts, doing everything from traditional advertising to social media.

“We just don’t want anybody to apply,” said Franklin, saying they are using all platforms to reach the largest office.

That makes a lot of sense because after witnessing just the training portion, it takes a special person to want to do that job.

And one of those isn’t some starry-eyed newspaper editor who thinks skidding a car is akin to racing in the Indy 500 and that shooting a gun for the first time in decades warrants some sort of recognition.

And speaking of recognition, just before we all left the building, the CHP gave participants a certificate noting we had endured the Media Boot Camp and now had some understanding of the California High Patrol.

Again, for the first time in decades, I was a graduate.

Now, if I can just get my hands on one of those skid cars ...

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

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