Local officers with the California Highway Patrol welcomed a new member to their ranks this week.
Veterans with the Lone Pine CHP office will spend the next 45 days “breaking in” Officer Jeremy Patch, who graduated from the grueling 27-week CHP Boot Camp April 29 and reported for duty in Inyo County this past Monday.
Patch will be living in Lone Pine and working out of the Southern Inyo office.
As with all new officers, Patch had an opportunity to visit Inyo County prior to graduation from the academy to tour his duty station and conduct a ride-along with a local officer.
The ride-along – basically a routine albeit demanding and high-pressure patrol of U.S. 395 with a seasoned officer – gave Patch a chance to familiarize himself with the local beat and his future, primary duties here, in addition to offering him a general lay of the land.
During the ride-along, Patch said he got a feel for the type of work he will be doing, which includes a lot of speed enforcement on local highways.
Patch witnessed a number of traffic stops, one resulting in a DUI arrest, giving him some experience with booking lawbreakers into Inyo County Jail.
CHP Public Information Officer Dennis Cleland said the ride-along also gives local officers an opportunity to pass some invaluable on-the-job insight about the duty station to Patch before he even graduated from the academy.
Now that Patch has graduated, he is considered a full-fledged officer – one of the state’s elite, highly trained law enforcement personnel.
He will spend the next 45 days conducting his patrols with a senior officer who will help to critique him and evaluate his performance.
The break-in period consists of three 15-day phases, each with a different senior officer. At the end of the 45-day training period, Patch’s first trainer will come back for four days of evaluation to see how much he has grown and learned.
“Each training officer is expected to impart their knowledge and evaluate his progress,” said Lone Pine Substation Sergeant Joe Francone. “We don’t want him to get hurt, but we want to test his abilities.”
Patch said he is ready for the training process thanks to the rigorous, almost seven-month-long boot camp he completed.
“The academy really taught me about time management, they throw a lot at you,” Patch said. “We had 1,300 hours of classroom time, we learned the vehicle code, conducted a DUI wet lab. There was a lot they threw at us.”
The CHP academy – a 70-plus-year-old institution in Sacramento that Cleland describes as a “paramilitary organization” – is notoriously selective, widely respected and infamously difficult to complete.
Recruits have to pass an extensive hiring process before being accepted to the academy, one that begins with a written test focusing on sentence structure, reading comprehension and vocabulary.
According to Cleland, the CHP places a high value on command of the written word “because law enforcement work is primarily report writing. A lot of lawyers I’ve encountered – defense and prosecution – say they appreciate the CHP’s report writing style because we are so thorough.”
A 30-minute arrest, he explained, could result in four hours of report-writing; a fatal accident could take two days to properly write up; but it’s incumbent upon the officer to include every fact and detail for the record.
Sixty-four percent of potential hires do not pass the written exam, Cleland said, and the field of candidates only shrivels from there.
Those who do pass are then subjected to a rigorous physical agility test; a written, 1,000-question psychological battery test; an eye exam; a formal, business-like oral interview in front of a panel; an extensive background check (your neighbors may be questioned); a physical exam; an oral psychological exam; and a voice stress analysis, similar to a lie detector test.
Assuming the candidate has passed every phase of the hiring process, and after what may seem like an eternity, Cleland said, he or she will be recommended for the academy.
However, those chances are fairly slim.
“From what I’m told, they only hire one in every 1,000 applicants,” Cleland said.
But the rare few who pass muster had better start training and hitting the gym at this point, he said, because the academy is intense, to say the least.
“The academy typically has 2-3 ‘companies’ every three months,” Cleland said. “It’s not uncommon for 10 people out of every company to drop out.
“It is so physically and psychologically demanding.”
Cadets in boot camp, when not enduring grueling physical training and mental strain at the hands of retired Marine Corps drill sergeants, are taught vehicle patrol; accident investigation; apprehension and arrest of suspected violators, including DUI offenders; traffic control; report writing; recovery of stolen vehicles; assisting the motoring public; issuing citations; and, “probably the most important,” Cleland said, emergency scene management.
Cadets also take extensive classes to learn not just the California Vehicle Code, but also the Penal Code and Health and Safety Code – the laws of the land.
Part of the training is conducted in as close to real-life situations as possible. The extensive driver Emergency Vehicle Operation and Training includes a high-speed course and a driving test that simulates various driving conditions, such as ice or wet roads.
The campus of the academy includes a section of empty buildings portioned into a city block where cadets can practice urban pursuits. According to Cleland, the instructors will do everything in their power to rattle the drivers, such as pulling alongside a cadet and firing blanks at him or her before peeling away, or suddenly throwing “little old ladies in sedans” into the action. Cadets, of course, must still obey all rules of the road and could, for example, get marked down for improperly passing that little old lady.
And when officers refer to the academy as boot camp, there is no exaggeration involved, for that is exactly how the academy is operated – with drill instructors screaming and spewing spittle, with cadets puking because they’ve done hundreds of sit-ups or ran too many miles.
The main idea behind the psychological rigors of the academy, according to Cleland, is to mentally prepare CHP officers for the day they may be on some isolated road, alone, with a confrontational subject and the only way out of the situation is to keep calm.
“All this training teaches us grace under pressure,” he said. “You do have to keep your cool.”
And again, many cadets are unable to do so, dropping out before graduation or failing altogether.
If a cadet is unable to complete any of the classroom or field training assignments, they are given one do-over. If they fail twice, they are dropped from the academy. Patch’s class began with 125 cadets, and only 68 made it to graduation.
“The whole boot camp experience was difficult,” Patch said, “the first few weeks are tough, but then you start relying on your partners and building confidence. Here (on the job), you’re constantly on patrol, writing tickets, filling out daily reports, and you need that” support and training.
Patch will be living in Lone Pine with his wife and two children. “We’re involved with a community church and I look forward to being involved with the community both as an officer and as a citizen,” Patch said.
Currently the CHP is not taking any more cadets into its boot camp program as state officials attempt to sort through budget woes.
In the past, the Bishop area of the CHP has been a desired assignment for senior officers who were reaching the end of their careers and wanted to relocate to a more quiet, rural area.
According to Cleland, as the housing market deteriorated, fewer and fewer officers were able to sell their home and relocate. As that trend progressed, the Bishop area office began to receive more young officers. Currently, both the Lone Pine and Bishop offices are operating with a fairly young staff.
Patch said that he, a Colorado native, selected Inyo County as his first choice for his duty assignment.
“Growing up in Colorado, I liked to fish and stuff, and this area just really fits who I am,” he said.