A look at how the California Highway Patrol has been affected by COVID-19
I had the pleasure of speaking with Officer Palmer last week at the Hanford CHP Station. Walking into the lobby, I was met by Officer Palmer and we had our introductions. He led me to an open office space where we could do the Q and A portion of our meeting.
I started the interview by asking Palmer a bit about himself. He has served California Highway Patrol for fifteen years and been at the Hanford (440) Station for close to two years.
Moving to the next question, I asked what the jurisdiction Of CHP was. Officer Palmer replied “California Highway Patrol has jurisdiction over all of California. Any road, anywhere in the state, we can enforce laws, we are not limited to the highways.” He went on to clarify that technically as CHP is also the State Police even in City or County areas they have the ability to enforce the law. “We have jurisdiction in every part of the state where other agencies, like a sheriffs office, are limited by the county lines they fall within.”
The pandemic disrupted every aspect of life. To better understand how changes have been made in the CHP, I asked Officer Palmer to describe the typical work experience prior to the pandemic. “Our typical day would be to go out and to provide the highest level of safety, service and security to the people of California, making sure the roadways are safe. Handling traffic law enforcement, collision prevention by patrolling the roadways.” Knowing that the average day of a highway patrol officer is never routine, I provided a scenario to help with comparisons.
In the scenario two cars are in rush hour traffic on Interstate 5. One rear ends the other but no serious injuries occur. I asked Officer Palmer to walk me through the CHP response upon arriving to the scene of the accident. This would be the response before the COVID-19 pandemic. “First there wouldn’t be any restrictions on physical distancing. We would show up at the scene, provide the traffic safety and control, ensure that the roadway is cleared in a timely manner to keep the motoring public moving. We would make sure that the accident participants are not injured or if they are injured, ensure they get the treatment they need from the fire department. Next we investigate the collision to find out the cause, create a report and if need be issue citations.”
My follow up question was to ask how that same scenario would play out now, but with the pandemic restrictions in place. I was hoping to get a clear picture of the before COVID-19 and after COVID-19 and how our first responders have had to make adjustments. Officer Palmer’s statement was reassuring. “For the Highway Patrol nothing has really changed. The commissioner spoke early on saying CHP would handle business as usual. Our goal again is to provide the highest level of safety, service and security to the people of California and we’ve maintained that. Adjustments were made with public safety in mind such as social distancing, adhering to the mask mandates and testing. But the day to day work has not changed.”
Being hard of hearing myself, masks have made communication difficult at the best of times. I was curious as to how that has been seen in emergency response. I asked Officer Palmer if the effectiveness of his job was affected by the mask mandates. Officer Palmer agreed that it added a challenging aspect to his job. “By covering the mouth, speech is muffled, facial expressions are obscured. You can learn a lot about a person by their facial expression, what they are thinking, or feeling, if they are in pain or if there is a language barrier it helps to read the face.”
Lastly we spoke about what it takes to become an officer for California Highway Patrol. After an extensive back ground check process, you enter into a twenty-eight week academy. There the cadets have courses that include driving, law enforcement, basic medical training, physical training and weapons training. Officer Palmer Stressed the importance of the firearms training all officers of the CHP undergo, stating “We learn when and how to draw and fire our weapons.” The California Highway Patrol currently wears the black ribbon of mourning over their badges to honor the deaths of officers in the line of duty.
After the question portion was finished I was given a tour of the Station. As we passed each room I was given an explanation and told how the CHP worked diligently to ensure proper procedures are followed. The people of California can rest easy knowing that the California Highway Patrol is on the road.
Below are a few links for Program information offered by the CHP