Dr. Bill Atwood

Along for the ride

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a “ride along” with an officer of the California Highway Patrol. A “Ride Along” is the best way to be a passenger in a patrol unit because you are an invited guest riding in the front seat of the patrol cruiser and not a person cuffed in the rear seat of the car who has just been told, “You have the right to remain silent …”

Sergeant Ethan Jackson was the officer who apparently drew the short straw in his office and had the assignment of giving me the grand tour. I learned a great deal during that ride in preparation for this article. Sergeant Jackson is much younger than I. At my age, I notice that all of the law enforcement folks and the firefighters look like teenagers. As the good sergeant and I were beginning our day, I told him that I was excited to finally get to ride in a CHP patrol car and that I would be imagining calling out on the radio, “Twenty-one fifty to headquarters, twenty-one fifty to headquarters.”

Sergeant Jackson looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling across my face. He did not remember Dan Matthews of the 1950s Highway Patrol television show. Ethan is so young that he barely remembers Ponce and Jon enforcing the laws on the freeways in Los Angeles for the television show, “CHIPS.” Trust me; things have changed since Dan Matthews was solving crimes during the 1950s.

I took a tour of the new station, which is not only beautiful but very functional and practical. It isn’t fair to call it the Taj Mahal. While it looks very fancy, it is apparent that it has been designed to meet this area’s needs long after most of us have left this mortal state. The electronics required by law enforcement now require a great deal of space and wiring. A great deal of thought went into how the state spent our money here.

Following the tour, we went out to the patrol unit and I was amazed at the computer and communications systems. I don’t think Apollo 11 had this much technology when they landed on the moon.

The radar gun is not directly tied to the speedometer. The radar operator compares the speedometer reading to the patrol vehicle speed determined by radar. It doesn’t matter if the patrol unit is moving or not and it can allow for your speed coming or going. Sergeant Jackson shared with me a “fool-proof way” of avoiding a ticket for speeding when they are using the radar gun - just follow the posted speed limit signs.

While we drove around Oakhurst and the surrounding areas, I learned a great deal about my neighbors. I noticed that the manner of driving I witnessed while riding in the patrol unit was vastly different than what I witnessed when I was in my own car going to and then from the “ride-along.”

I learned during my time with the sergeant a great deal about the CHP and our Oakhurst office. Shattering myth number one - it is not a training center. There are not times when newer officers are brought in to learn how to be law enforcement officers.

Myth number two -The Highway Patrol doesn’t get a single solitary cent from any fines collected because they have ticketed you or somebody else. They are paid out of DMV fees.

Myth number three - there are no quotas. None, nada, zero. Obviously the captain watches to see what his/her officers are doing and if an officer is going days without writing a citation or the reverse is writing so many that the other officers can’t equal the output, the lieutenant will have a heart-to-heart chat with that officer. Again. no quotas. Myth number four - they don’t sit outside of restaurants and lounges waiting to nail us.

The Highway Patrol in this state has also replaced the state police in many functions. The CHP guards state buildings and courts, and protects our state elected leaders from the governor on down.

We can help them. First, simply obey the traffic laws. Report criminal activity. It is legal to use your cellular phone while driving if you are reporting a criminal activity to 911. Look out for the officers when they are on the side of the road. Volunteer. Our Oakhurst office needs about 20 volunteers to help with manning desks, taking calls, filing, traffic control at special events, and being the eyes of law enforcement. They can’t be everywhere.

Sergeant Jackson shared that the attitude of the CHP is to inform the public and to use education as the means of getting us to be better citizens on the road. Sometimes it can be a warning and sometimes it takes a ticket, which is at the discretion of the officer. Your attitude helps when having the roadside conversation that began with, “Did I do something wrong officer?”

My ride-along reinforced my feelings about the CHP. Not only does it stand for California Highway Patrol, but also “Clearly Highly Professionals.”

Drive safely.