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CHP says it wants to move forward

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer
8/31/2011

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series. The first part was published Aug. 24.

The California Highway Patrol has been on a campaign to improve its relations with Plumas County residents.

Responding to years of public complaints about over-aggressive tactics by CHP officers, Quincy Area Commander Bruce Carpenter has invited public input.

The commander has held three meetings with local officials and business owners since July 15. He said he plans to conduct a townhall style meeting with the public in the near future.

During the most recent meeting, held Aug. 19 at the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office, Carpenter met with local citizens as well as Assemblyman Dan Logue, District Attorney David Hollister and Plumas County Supervisors Lori Simpson and Jon Kennedy.

Northern California Highway Patrol Chief Stephen Bell and Assistant Chief Todd Chadd also attended.

While many issues were discussed, the meeting centered around an Aug. 15 incident between two CHP officers and a Quincy High School student.

The student’s father, Dan Hanna, read a letter to the group claiming his son was stopped without probable cause and aggressively interrogated.

Bell said a copy of the letter was to be posted in the Quincy CHP office.

Following the Aug. 19 meeting, Logue, Carpenter, Bell and Chadd agreed to meet with Feather Publishing.

Following are excerpts from that interview:

 

Logue: One of the most important things we are going to have here is trust. Because the biggest fear that I’ve heard is retribution. People don’t want to speak out. They are afraid of paying a big price.

And I’m not saying that is a fair analysis, but it’s real.

When somebody gets pulled over and it’s not a legitimate stop … that word will spread like fire.

When you pull somebody over, you have (an officer) with a gun. That’s very powerful. And if it’s not legitimate, that’s very intimidating.

And I think that’s why Mr. Hanna was so engaged in this. It’s his son.

If an officer comes up to me and they have a gun as a sidearm, and they are questioning me about who am, where I’m from, who my friends are … that would scare a teenager to death.

Bell: I think you will find out that the CHP is trying. The Hanna incident should have been stopped completely.

 

CHP does not have a citation quota

Bell: We don’t have quota systems. We don’t have (revenue) goals. We don’t have any of that.

It’s all based on traffic safety. Our goal is to prevent accidents.

That is why we are out there, to do the patrol, to do the enforcement, to aggressively seek out that DUI offender and put them behind bars. Absolutely.

Feather Publishing: Define “aggressively seek that DUI.” That aggressiveness here seems to equate to stopping people for license plate lights, or parking across the street from the bars.

Bell: I want all of my employees to be aggressive in focusing on that (DUI). But sitting on bars? Absolutely not.

And we are not going to do speed traps. We are not going to do any of those things. Again, we are aggressive within professional means.

That means when (officers) are out there, I want them working and working hard.

Logue: This is how intense the feeling about the CHP is up here right now. The streets in this community roll up at seven o’clock.

I would love to see the aggressiveness shift from here to Broadway in Sacramento.

 

Speed traps

Carpenter: It has been strongly put out to the squad that under no circumstances should they appear to be concealed. Our policy prohibits that.

And we are very in tune in seeing that our guys are patrolling their entire beats. And that they are taking action on the violations that they see.

Since we have been working on this, I have really noticed driving the Canyon, my guys sitting right on the shoulder. I see them there sitting in plain sight.

 

Rumor control: CHP officers starting a fund to unseat sheriff and district attorney?

Bell: Absolutely not. I heard that. And I heard that from above me. So I called Bruce.

I said “Bruce, this is either a rumor or it’s true, please find out.” And Bruce talked to his staff and can unequivocally say it’s not happening here.

I don’t know how the rumor got out.

 

CHP public relations

Carpenter: I have a new public information officer coming in. We are really going to ramp things up to get the message out there.

I’m in the process of putting together a presentation to help educate a lot of people about us. But to also talk about the issues that are brought to us.

Bell: There is going to be a website that will allow a community service survey.

Once we have that out there for 30 or 60 days, we are going to take that and analyze it and then we are going to report back to the (Plumas County) Board of Supervisors and share that information with the newspaper.

The form is already available on the chp.ca.gov website (click on Community Services Survey).

 

CHP commanders recently met in Quincy

Chadd: We are using this experience kind of like a case study.

We invited all of our Eastern Sector commanders to come (to Quincy. That meeting was held Aug. 11 at the sheriff’s office.). They heard from the district attorney and the sheriff. They looked at the materials that we’ve gathered today to help us with the problem solving.

Because that does two things: One, it builds a better plan, of which they helped Bruce with. And two, it helps early intervention, so it doesn’t spread to adjacent commands, other commands.

Just this morning, Chief Bell got a call from one of our other divisions. “We hear that you have a strategy.” And they want to know more about our strategy, just for early intervention.

It may seem like just Plumas County. But there are a lot of eyes — beyond Plumas County — on Bruce.

Logue: I commend you for that.

Bruce: It was a brainstorming session, basically. It was a very good meeting. Awesome. A lot of good ideas came from that meeting.

We had a vast array of experience there — commanders of different tenures. A lot of them had dealt with a lot of issues we are facing. It was a great exchange of information. And the sheriff and DA provided a lot of the local insight.

 

Too many CHP officers in Plumas County?

Logue: Well, we talked about that today. We did a little more research.

The traffic count in Plumas is on average about 3,000 per day. Nevada County is over 20,000. (The number of CHP officers in the counties is about the same.)

So, my concern here is no matter how we train these officers, they’ve got to have something to do.

So we are going to step away from this. And I’ve given (Carpenter) my word that I would stay with (the current staffing) and see how these studies go.

In six months, if these people (in Plumas County) are happy, I’m happy.

I want to be on record as saying it’s maybe four or five (officers) … that the vast majority of CHP are doing a great job. The public needs to know that.

But it’s just mathematics. When you’ve got five times less people, 10 times less traffic, the people are going to feel the heat more. So, even if they are doing everything by the book, I don’t know if it’s going to get fixed.

I promised Steve (Bell), I’m on the budget committee, I’m on the transportation committee, I’m letting this go. I want them to fix it. And I’ll tell you something … If (the CHP fixes) this, with their team in place, this will be a benchmark for the rest of the state. Because they’ve done a hell of a job.

Bell: We appreciate the assemblyman’s support on that.

He and I have respectfully disagreed on some things. And that has to be it with the staffing.

One of the concerns I have with staffing is you have to look at officer safety.

Look at the Quincy area and look at the vast geography. You are talking about (officers), not 10 miles away, not 20 miles away, but they could be 50 or 60 miles away.

And if you have two officers working at the extreme beats and, God forbid, something goes wrong, well then we are in trouble.

For CHP, we have to consider that. We have to consider officer safety.

I agree, if you look at (staffing) just on the basis of numbers and traffic counts, well maybe it looks like we have a few more than we should.

 

Moving forward

Bell: If I may, I certainly cannot ask you how to write this. But in the end, as you are writing this and you report how CHP is working … can we reiterate that it’s got to go to Bruce?

And it’s got to be very timely because, again, some of the concerns are years old and it’s like “OK, I get that.” But, let’s move forward. Let’s get Bruce the information in a timely manner, and then let Todd and I hold Bruce accountable and ultimately you will hold me accountable along with commissioner (Joe) Farrow. You can write in the paper that we will do it.

Carpenter: And I agree. We have to live in the present. We can only move forward at this point. What’s been done has been done.

We are looking into past things, yes. But it’s really important we move forward and change how it is.

Logue: The CHP commissioner called and he is as committed as the locals here are.

So I’m pretty hopeful that there is a plan moving forward.

In the long run, I think this is going to bring the community together.


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