The day-to-day work of a Highway Patrol officer on California’s roads is rather routine for police work. Officers monitor traffic flow and speed, write tickets, rescue stranded motorists, apprehend suspects and assist other law enforcement agencies. In short, they do important work that is difficult to glamorize.
The news that two young California Highway Patrol officers, Juan Gonzalez and Brian Law, were killed early Monday while swerving to avoid pedestrians who had been involved in an accident on Highway 99 illustrates how even everyday police work can go terribly wrong.
Officers Gonzalez and Law were doing their job; imagine the relief you would feel when the CHP pulls up if you had been in an accident. This is a moment that thousands of Californians have experienced over the history of the CHP, and one that is just another day at the office for experienced patrolmen and women.
CHP, along with all law enforcement officers, assume a high level of risk every day. Anything can happen. CHP officers with flashlights peer into dark cars at 2 in the morning; there are no news stories written about those moments. They catch drunken drivers going 110 miles per hour; there are no news stories written about them. They arrive at horrific fatal accident scenes and help survivors; these moments, too, are generally unheralded. Events that would be signal moments in our own lives are commonplace occurrences for the typical CHP officer.
Gonzalez was 33 and single. Law, 34, was married and had three children. They both had been in the same California Highway Patrol Academy class, became friends, and then were partnered in the CHP Fresno office. They were the first Fresno CHP officers to die on duty in 50 years. Statewide, 225 California Highway Patrol officers have died in the line of duty in the agency’s history.
When you see a CHP patrol cruiser on the freeway passing you, their destination a mystery, take a moment to realize that Californians ask them to perform very difficult work on our behalf. The deaths of Gonzalez and Law dramatically illustrate how dangerous it can be.