Ever wonder what a day is like in the life of a California Highway Patrol officer?
One of the best ways to find out is to go for a "ride-along." It's not easy to get permission to do this. However, if you're lucky enough, here's what you might experience:
An officer friend of mine, John, works a schedule that the CHP calls "B watch." Many people refer to it as "swing shift." In most offices, that runs from 1:45 p.m. to 10:15 p.m.
There are no "typical" days on this job. However, an "average" ride-along might find the following scenario:
1:40 p.m. The sergeant holds a "briefing." Patrol areas known as "beats" are assigned.
Humorous comments can pop up during these briefings. Cops tend to laugh at themselves, their colleagues and their own ironic situations. For example, "Working an RP (resident post) was the best CHP assignment I ever had. My sergeant was always at least 100 miles away!" or, "Who was that wise guy last night who called me 'road service with a Remington' (shot-gun)?"
Officers love to speak in codes, like fraternity brothers. Different law enforcement agencies may have different symbols. For example, Lodi Police Department may use "8" "9" and "10" codes, while the CHP uses "10" and "11" codes. These are such things as "10-97" (arrived at scene) or "11-82" (traffic accident, no injury).
They also use acronyms for just about everything. "You need to talk to the PFM (police fleet manager)." "I need a working PAS (preliminary alcohol screener)," or "You'll be riding with a CVIS today (commercial vehicle inspection specialist)."
Around 2 p.m., B watch begins. My friend has some seniority, so he gets to pick one of the newer vehicles. His PV (patrol vehicle) is a "Crown Vic slick top" (Ford Crown Victoria with no roof light bar but instead, interior upper windshield lights).
The officer does a "beat sweep" and finds no problems or incidents. By 2:45 p.m., a '96 Chevy pickup is "lit up" for doing 73 in a 55 mph zone. John checks the plate number. It is clear of any problems. He approaches the driver from the right side of the car. After a short conversation, he returns to the PV with the violator's DL (driver's license).
Radio calls are also spoken in mysterious codes. Officer: "61-3, 11-27." Dispatch: "61-3." Officer: "5 Nora 1173125." Dispatch: "Valid to a Frank Smith, 714 Anywhere St. Turtleville. Officer: "61-3, 10-4."
John debates with himself as to whether or not to issue a ticket. In the end, he decides to "write" a 22349 VC (exceeding 65 mph).
"The guy needs to slow down on these back roads," he says. "These people tend cut the line on corners and that's how we can lose motorcycle riders."
The rest of the shift goes something like this: three more speeding tickets, along with two verbal warnings; response to a minor accident; "10-7" (lunch at the drive-in); finally, a suspected DUI. The suspect does not blow a .08 percent (80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood) on a PAS test. Therefore, he's under the legal limit. Same person is written for 23226 VC (open container). By 10 p.m., the PV arrives back at the office. Preparation takes place for another day's assignment.
CHP officers work in all kinds of weather conditions. Eighty-five percent never move above the rank of "officer," primarily because of their love for patrol duty.
"At 50, I can retire with most of my salary," John tells me. "The job can be tough on family life, tiresome and downright dangerous. But despite the negatives, I can't imagine myself doing anything else."
"I just can't see the daily drudgery of a desk," he says.
Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.