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KHTS, SCVTV Take Ride-Along With California Highway Patrol

Officer Eric Priessman of the Newhall office of the California Highway Patrol generally begins his shift with coffee and a 5 a.m. briefing.

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After discussing concerns, such as traffic hazards, road conditions, Amber Alerts or any other information Priessman and his fellow officers might need to know, they hit the roads.

The Santa Clarita Valley office — which is in Castaic, but dubbed Newhall because that’s where it used to be — covers a pretty wide berth.

Their area of responsibility reaches from Interstate 5, north of the 405-5 interchange through Gorman; on Highway 14, from its southernmost point to Ward Road, near Red Rover Mine; heading west on Highway 126 until the Ventura County line; and on the 210 Freeway until it hits the 118 Freeway.

Each officer covers a different area or beat, and officers get to choose their area of preference according to seniority. Priessman generally takes what’s known as the central area, which is on Interstate 5, from the Calgrove Boulevard off ramp to the Templin Highway exit.

Putting about 150 miles a day on the wheels of his patrol SUV, a stock Ford explorer — the CHP’s choice of succession to the Crown Victoria, which is no longer made — he keeps an eye out for distracted driving, speeding and any other activity that might make for unsafe passage on the SCV’s roadways.

His patrol shift usually begins with “sweeping the beat,” checking the area for abandoned vehicles or any unsafe conditions, he said.

He can then decide if he wants to stay moving in his patrol car, or go “fishing,” i.e. perch his vehicle near an onramp that allows him a view of oncoming traffic from alongside the road, where he can look for any unsafe practices.

For Priessman, a former Air Force officer who served for eight years before joining the CHP 14 years ago, he “was looking for a job where I could make a difference,” when it was time to leave the armed forces, he said.

One of the biggest priorities for CHP officers is distracted driving, noting its role in about 1.6 million crashes each year.

“The National Safety Council has accumulated 1.6 million crashes last year, and of those 1.6 million, at least 200,000 had to do with texting, as opposed to talking, on a cellphone,” Priessman said. “It’s illegal for a reason and it’s causing collisions.”

And the figure is likely much higher, Priessman said, as drivers are generally hesitant to admit they were talking on the phone or texting before a crash.

CHP officers train extensively in all manner of road action, from how to gauge a driver’s speed, to investigating crash scenes to vehicle pursuits, of which Priessman has taken part in a handful of in his years with the CHP.

Speeding is one of the most common infractions officers see, he said, and they train extensively on their ability to judge a car’s speed without using a radar.

Officers train by gauging the speed of 100 vehicles, testing themselves against the radar until they become certified — practiced at the skill to the point where their certification stands up in court as expert testimony.

Few people realize CHP officers don’t need a radar in order to issue a speeding citation, Priessman said; however, officers frequently use radar to verify their estimations.

At the end of his shift day, by around 3:30 p.m., Priessman has finished his reports in a fairly nondescript office space where radio batteries are charging on several walls, and computer keyboards await those on the next shift, which runs from noon to 10:30 p.m.

A third overnight shift, from 8 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. assures around-the-clock coverage, Priessman said.

“On any given day, even the most boring day in the department, I may not feel it, but I know that I made a change, hopefully for the positive, for at least one person,” he said. “If I stop someone for speeding, and I write them a citation, they may not be very happy with the Highway Patrol — but I could have potentially saved their life by getting them to slow down.”

For those interested in joining the California Highway Patrol, there’s information available online

Do you have a news tip? Call us at (661) 298-1220, or drop us a line at community@hometownstation.com.

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Source: Santa Clarita News

KHTS, SCVTV Take Ride-Along With California Highway Patrol

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About Perry Smith

Perry Smith is a print and broadcast journalist who has won several awards for his focused, hyperlocal community coverage in several different regions of the country. In addition to five years of experience covering the Santa Clarita Valley, Smith, a San Fernando Valley native, has worked in newspapers and news websites in Los Angeles, the Northwest, the Central Valley and the South, before coming to KHTS in 2012. To contact Smith, email him at Perry@hometownstation.com.