California Highway Patrol

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The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is the state police force of California, originally a highway patrol agency created in 1929 to ensure road safety in California, it assumed greater responsibility as time went on. It now also protects state buildings and facilities, conducts criminal investigations and assists local law enforcement agencies.


Highway Patrol Duties


The agency patrols all highways in unincorporated areas, including all freeways. Its officers enforce the provisions of the California Vehicle Code (especially the prohibition on speeding), pursue fugitives spotted on the highways, and attend to all significant obstructions. They patrol in Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors, Chevrolet Camaros, motorcycles, airplanes, and helicopters.

CHP officers are responsible for investigating and disposing of car accidents, debris, dead animals, and anything else that may be impeding the free flow of traffic. They are often the first government agents at the scene of an accident (or other obstruction), and in turn summon paramedics, tow truck drivers, or Caltrans personnel as required.

CHP officers often run what are known as traffic breaks to enable other officers ahead to clean up accidents or obstructions safely. This is done by the officer activating his unit's rear or overhead flashing lights, waiting for surrounding traffic to drop back, and then swerving back and forth across all lanes of the freeway to gently force the traffic behind him to slow or to stop. Traffic breaks can be a frightening sight for out-of-state visitors or children who have never seen them before.

Special responsibilities

The CHP also publishes data on traffic accidents in California from a database called SWITRS (Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System).

After the September 11, 2001 attacks the CHP became responsible for securing and patrolling all suspected 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.


CHP uniforms are traditionally khaki-colored with campaign hat and blue 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. Patrol vehicles are traditionally black with white doors and roof, with a replica of the CHP badge on the sides and the words HIGHWAY PATROL on the back.

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 foundation makes custom license plate frames which are often seen on the personal vehicles of CHP officers (and their families).

Newhall Incident

The darkest day in the patrol's history was April 6, 1970, when four CHP officers were gunned down in less than five minutes in Newhall, California (CHP History). Two officers initially stopped men in a vehicle for brandishing a weapon. Before the officers could approach, they came under fire and both were killed. Two additional officers responding to the incident were fired upon before they could see either the downed officers or the suspects. The officers wounded one of the suspects but succumbed to their injuries. One of the suspects was caught in the ensuing search of the area, and the other suspect killed himself.

The tragic loss at Newhall led to major reforms in training procedures, firearms use, and arrest techniques. The Newhall Incident has since become an important part of the training of all law enforcement officers. It was the beginning of the term "officer safety" (i.e., "You will train how you will fight as you will fight how you train.")

On July 12, 1995, the California State Police was merged into the CHP, thus greatly expanding the agency's mandate. In addition to safety on the state's roads, it is now responsible for the safety of all state elected officials and all people who work in or are utilizing a state building in California, such as the State Capitol Building in Sacramento.

Media references

CHiPs was a fictional television drama show of the 1970s about the CHP, and the CHP also helped out in the 1955 TV show Highway Patrol starring Broderick Crawford.

External links

North:Oregon State Police
West:N/A East:Nevada Highway Patrol
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