The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is a state agency that acts as the state police force of California. It was originally created in 1929 as a highway patrol agency to ensure road safety in California but assumed greater responsibility with the passage of time. It now also provides security police services while protecting state buildings and facilities, conducts criminal investigations, and assists local law enforcement agencies. It is the largest state police agency in the United States with about 9,900 employees, of whom 6,800 are sworn officers, according to FBI data.
Its officers enforce the California Vehicle Code (including laws against speeding), pursue fugitives spotted on the highways, and attend to all significant obstructions and accidents within their jurisdiction. They patrol in various vehicles including Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, Chevrolet Camaros, BMW R1150RT-P motorcycles, Cessna 206 airplanes, and helicopters which include Bell OH-58As, Bell 206L-IVs and Eurocopter AS-350B-3s. The CHP has a fleet of 73 Chevrolet Camaros, which are used for commercial vehicle patrols.
CHP officers are responsible for investigating and disposing of car accidents, debris, dead animals and other impediments to the free flow of traffic. They are often the first government officials at the scene of an accident (or obstruction), and in turn summon paramedics, tow truck drivers or Caltrans personnel. The CHP files traffic collision reports for state highways and within unincorporated areas.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks the CHP became responsible for securing and patrolling a number of potential terrorist targets in the State of California. These sites include the Bay Bridge, nuclear power plants, government buildings, and key infrastructure sites. They also maintain a SWAT team on 24 hour stand-by to respond to any terrorist activity.
In September 2005 the CHP sent resources to the Gulf Coast to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Before the United States National Guard arrived, the CHP had four patrol helicopters over New Orleans, more than forty vehicles on the ground, and more than 200 officers and other staff, including a SWAT team, deployed in New Orleans.
One of the California Highway Patrol's additional responsibilities includes a governor protection detail.
The CHP is led by the Commissioner, who is appointed by the Governor of California. The Deputy Commissioner is also appointed by the Governor and the Assistant Commissioners are appointed by the Commissioner.
In 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Joe Farrow as CHP Commissioner, succeeding Mike Brown, who resigned amidst pressure from the California legislature that he was an ineffective leader.
The CHP has a unit called the Mexico Liaison Unit, which consists of six officers and a sergeant, all of whom are fluent in Spanish. It is part of the Border Division. The purpose of this unit is to work with Mexican authorities to locate and recover stolen US vehicles in Mexico, identify the thieves and ensure their prosecution in California or Mexico, and to provide assistance to Mexican authorities. The CHP, however, has no jurisdiction in Mexico.
CHP uniforms are traditionally khaki-colored with campaign hat and blue and gold trouser stripe. The dress uniform includes a green jacket and bright blue tie (motorcycle officers wear a bow tie), and cold weather and utility uniforms are dark blue BDU's. Standard patrol vehicles are required by state law to be painted a solid color, usually black, with white doors and roof, with a replica of the CHP badge on the sides and the words HIGHWAY PATROL on the back. Special low profile Chevrolet Camaros joined the CHP fleet in 2002. Painted white and sporting a thin, flat LED light bar, rather than the traditional seven-pod Federal Signal Vision unit, these pursuit cars were designated for enforcement of trucking laws, but are also used for general patrol duties.
The California Highway Patrol is one of the few organizations to continue to use the older toll-free "Zenith 1-2000" number. With the falling cost of telephone area code 800, 888 etc. numbers, most organizations have chosen to switch to one of the newer numbers and discontinue use of the Zenith service which requires operator assistance.
Like any statewide law enforcement agency, the CHP has developed certain colorful traditions such as its own system of radio codes widely adopted by local agencies. The most important is 11-99 (officer needs emergency assistance or officer down).
In 1981, a charitable foundation (the 11-99 Foundation) was founded to provide benefits and scholarships to officers and their families.
The CHP has a code of honor. It states:
I, a member of the California Highway Patrol, subscribe in word and deed to the following:
To serve the State of California honestly, and conscientiously; and fulfill my oath as a soldier of the law;
To uphold and maintain the honor and integrity of the California Highway Patrol;
Be loyal to my fellow officers; respect and obey my seniors in rank; and enforce the law without fear, favor, or discrimination;
Assist those in peril or distress, and, if necessary, lay down my life rather than swerve from the path of duty;
My personal conduct shall at all times be above reproach and I will never knowingly commit any act that will in any way bring discredit upon the California Highway Patrol or any member thereof;
To all of this I do solemnly pledge my sacred honor as an Officer of the California Highway Patrol.
Since its formation in 1929, 213 CHP Officers have been killed in the line of duty. The three most common causes of line of duty deaths to date are (in order): Automobile/Motorcycle Accidents; Gunfire; Vehicular Assault (i.e., struck by drunk driver, reckless driving or otherwise impaired drivers). 1964 was the deadliest year, with 8 officers dying in the line of duty.
On April 6, 1970, four California Highway Patrol officers were killed in a 4-1/2 minute gun battle in the Newhall region of Southern California. The incident is a landmark in CHP history due both to its emotional impact and the procedural and doctrinal reforms made by the CHP in the incident's aftermath.
The 25th anniversary of this sad day was observed in April, 1995, at the present Newhall Area office, where a brick memorial pays tribute to Officers James Pence (6885), Roger Gore (6547), Walt Frago (6520) and George Alleyn (6290). The memorial once stood at the former Newhall office, but was rebuilt at the new site, about one mile from the scene of the slayings.
The killings occurred in a restaurant parking lot just before midnight. Officers Walt Frago and Roger Gore had been alerted by radio of a vehicle carrying someone who had brandished a weapon. They spotted the car, fell in behind, called for backup, and began the stop procedure. When the subjects' vehicle had come to a halt in the parking lot, the driver was instructed to get out and place his spread hands on the hood. Gore approached him and Frago moved to the passenger side. The right-side door suddenly swung open and the passenger sprung out, firing at Frago, who fell with two shots in his chest. The gunman, later identified as Jack Twinning, then turned and fired once at Gore, who returned fire. In that moment the driver, Bobby Davis, turned and shot Gore twice at close range. Both officers died instantly.
When Officers James Pence and George Alleyn drove in moments later, they could see neither suspects nor downed officers, but immediately came under fire. Pence put out an 11-99 call ("officer needs help") then took cover behind the passenger door. Alleyn grabbed the shotgun, and positioned himself behind the driver-side door. Both officers were mortally wounded in the ensuing exchange, and one subject was hit.
Gary Kness saw the gunfight as he drove along The Old Road and stopped to help. Kness ran toward the gun battle as shots were still being fired.
"I was driving to work as a computer operator when I turned the corner on the Old Road and saw the gunfire, I saw two CHP cars and a red car. I always say my brain said to get out of the way, but my feet ran the wrong way.
Kness tried to drag the mortally wounded Alleyn out of the line of fire. When one of the two assailants began firing at him, Kness grabbed a CHP shotgun lying on the ground and aimed it at one of the gunmen. The shotgun was empty, however. Kness snatched Alleyn's service revolver from the ground, aimed with both hands and fired, hitting gunman Bobby Augusta Davis in the chest. When Davis kept advancing toward him, Kness tried to shoot again, but the CHP pistol was out of bullets.
"I was upset there weren't four or five more rounds in there. After that, I ran and jumped in a ditch. The dumbest thing is, I still had the service revolver in my hand. I was afraid when more police came they'd think I was one of the gunman. So I put it behind me and said, 'They went that way.'
Suspects Jack Twinning and Bobby Davis escaped, later abandoned their vehicle and then split up. For nine hours, officers blanketed the area searching for the killers. Twinning broke into a house and briefly held a man hostage. Officers used tear gas before storming the house, but Twinning killed himself using the shotgun he had stolen from Frago. Davis was captured, stood trial and convicted on four counts of murder. He was sentenced to death, but in 1972 the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment and in 1973, the court modified Davis's sentence to life in prison.
In the following weeks, the emotionally charged follow-up investigation sometimes lingered on fault-finding, but ultimately resulted in a completely revamped set of procedures to be followed during high-risk and felony stops, with greatly increased emphasis on officer safety. Further reforms since that time trace their genesis to the Newhall Incident, and have included changes to firearms procedures, improvements to physical methods of arrest, increased reliance on the police baton, the adoption of new protective tools (such as pepper spray) as part of officers' standard equipment, and far more comprehensive training.
On July 12, 1995, the California State Police, which was a separate agency, was merged into the CHP, thus greatly expanding the agency's mandate. In addition to safety on the state highway system, it is now responsible for the safety of all elected state officials and all people who work in or are utilizing a state building in California, such as the State Capitol Building in Sacramento.
It has also been discussed to merge the Law Enforcement Division of the California Department of Fish and Game into the California Highway Patrol . By doing so, this may allow for better protection of California's environment and natural resources. The underfunded DFG Law Enforcement Division has faced low numbers of Game Wardens also known as Conservation Police Officers for the last ten years; a similar idea is already in place in Oregon and Alaska, where the Oregon State Police and Alaska State Troopers serve as game wardens under a separate fish and wildlife division within the two departments.
The current standard issue firearm for CHP officers is the Smith & Wesson Model 4006 TSW in .40 S&W. Additionally some officers are authorized to carry a taser. Each CHP patrol car is equipped with a Remington 870 Police 12-gauge shotgun and a Colt AR-15A2 in .223.1
The current patrol vehicle is the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. But the all time favorite and the fastest sedan in CHP History is the 1969 Dodge Polara with a top speed of 160-170mph. According to former Commissioner Spike Helmick and other retired CHP Officers who drove that car.
Crane, Bob, California Association of Highway Patrolmen Golden Chronicle 1920-1970, (Sacramento, California: California Association of Highway Patrolmen, 1970).