Santa Ana’s CHP division is feeling the pinch of budget cuts and staffing shortages. One hundred California Highway Patrol candidates will graduate from the CHP Academy in August, but only eight of those freshly-minted law enforcement officers will be headed to the Santa Ana division. Those eight officers will be replacing 10 officers who are leaving the division for retirement, leaving Santa Ana short two CHP patrollers.
CHP spokesperson Officer Florentino Olivera said that division is increasingly short-staffed, and August’s retirements will not help matters. Santa Ana’s CHP division is budgeted for 105 officers. Come September, it will only have 88. And not all are on patrol. About 15 work in dispatch, K-9 or investigative units.
Local staffing issues are part of a statewide trend. As of January, there were 7,139 CHP officers on the force, even though the agency is budgeted and authorized to sport 7,608.
But even reaching that target would not mean a much higher officer-to-driver ratio. A spokesperson for the Border Division, which covers Orange County, said that CHP’s current number of officers has basically remained unchanged since the 1970s, even though California’s population has nearly doubled since then.
According to Census data, California’s population was 20 million in 1970, compared with 39 million today. Larger infrastructure and more freeways means more territory for the CHP to patrol.
The officer gap cannot be chalked up to one single reason, but retirements, the rigors of academy training and injuries are putting pressure on the CHP’s force strength. Tough background checks preclude many Californians with minor drug offenses and traffic violations from joining the CHP, but the agency says it considers backgrounds on a case-by-case basis.
Dedication is the main stumbling block to joining CHP. Sgt. Brent Carter, who works in recruiting and hiring at CHP’s Sacramento headquarters, says the agency needs personnel who look at law enforcement as a career, not just a job.
There are plenty of applicants, but few who are a good fit for the CHP. Last year, more than 20,000 Californians applied to join the agency. Candidates who pass the fitness and background checks go to a six-month academy held four times a year, usually with about 150 students each.
Unlike other police academies, the CHP requires that students live on-site, demanding the dedication and determination to leave their families behind for half a year. After graduating, officers can be assigned anywhere in the state, wherever the need is greatest, which an extra hurdle for parents and families that have already set down roots. The $74,700 annual salary with 5 percent annual increases until $92,640, plus full health and dental benefits, may be outweighed by the commitment the job requires, particularly in the aftermath of highly-publicized officer shootings across the country.
But those 8 new recruits won’t be patrolling alone. For the first six months, new officers ride with a more experienced one, effectively reducing the Santa Ana division’s force to 67 patrollers.
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