The California Highway Patrol has a serious image problem in Plumas County.
We hear the complaints from people on the street, and we read them in our letters to the editor.
Our residents say they are afraid of our CHP. They say that young, aggressive patrolmen are looking for any reason to pull them over.
During a meeting at the Feather Publishing offices in Quincy on July 15, our local CHP commander, Bruce Carpenter, met for two hours with community leaders. Carpenter listened to citizens tell him they felt like they were under siege by his officers.
Some of the statistics presented during the meeting by Assemblyman Dan Logue were startling. The numbers proved that the problem isn’t merely a perception. It’s a reality.
In short, drivers in Plumas County are five times more likely to be pulled over and cited by the CHP than people living in Nevada County. Although Nevada County’s population of 100,000 is five times larger than that of Plumas County, the number of citations and DUI arrests are almost equal.
And Nevada County, which includes a stretch of the busy Interstate 80 corridor, has 23 CHP officers. Plumas County has 32 officers, if you include the officers patrolling between Chester and Susanville.
In 2009, the CHP began 24-hour coverage in Plumas County. An additional five officers — all of them fresh out of the academy — were added at that time. That meant there were five more young officers patrolling the lonely roads of this rural area while most of us are sleeping.
Do we need CHP officers on the job 24 hours a day? That is a topic for debate. But the larger issue is the way they are doing that job.
Logue said our CHP’s bad reputation has spread throughout the state. He said he is “swarmed” with complaints. He said our CHP needs to change its ways or he is going to do everything in his power to make changes happen.
“The last time I checked, there isn’t a crime wave here,” Logue said. “This has to stop. Things have to change.”
Logue said he wants to have another meeting in 60 days to see if there has been any progress.
Can things change? We hope so. Our tourism-based economy relies on visitors. Some of those visitors have said they will never come back because of run-ins with our CHP.
To Carpenter’s credit, he appeared to take the July 15 meeting very seriously. He and the CHP’s Northern Division assistant chief, Todd Chadd, listened intently to the complaints. It would have been natural for them to take a defensive posture. But they didn’t do that.
Instead, they pledged to address the problem. They explained there is an adjustment period for young officers who were rigidly trained to deal with big-city problems and who were instead assigned to our country roads — many of them against their will.
Carpenter has been our CHP commander for less than a year. We believe he and his officers are dedicated to protecting the citizens of Plumas County. But there is a big difference between “protection” and “oppression.”
Is 60 days enough time to improve the CHP’s relationship with the people of this county? Most likely it isn’t. But the fact that our CHP commander admitted there is indeed a problem, and is willing to address it, is an encouraging sign.