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CHP says traffic stops always present danger

California Highway Patrolmen always need to be prepared for violence during routine traffic stops, but only so much before the public feels threatened themselves, according to Sgt. Mike Lawrence at the CHP’s Grass Valley office.

Lawrence said the slaying of Officer Earl Scott, 36, about 4:40 a.m. Friday during a traffic stop near Ripon, showed how a routine stop can be anything but normal.

“I don’t think it makes you nervous, but it brings it home,” Lawrence said. “You can’t be complacent wherever you’re working in this state.”



The officer was shot and killed on Highway 99, making him the fifth CHP officer killed on duty in the last five months, said Mike Brown, the state’s highway commissioner.

“You can only be on guard so much before the public thinks we’re overzealous,” Lawrence said. You can’t have your hand on your gun or have it drawn every time you make a traffic stop.”




In California, “we do thousands of traffic stops every day,” Lawrence said. In January, local officers wrote 300-plus tickets just between McKnight Way at the edge of Grass Valley to the Bear River Bridge at the Nevada-Placer county line.

“That’s at least 300 stops in that stretch of road alone,” during the concerted effort to bring highway deaths down in that area. “It’s amazing the amount of traffic stops that we make.”

Meanwhile Friday, officials were questioning a man who turned himself into the Stockton Police Department, according to Stanislaus County Assistant Sheriff Mark Puthuff. The agency is helping the CHP with the investigation.

Authorities are still looking for a dark green 1990 Nissan Maxima with California license plates, 5KWA335, in connection to the shooting.

Scott would have celebrated his five-year anniversary with the department this Sunday, Brown said. His father was a retired highway patrol sergeant who worked in the Monterey office and two uncles were retired sergeants from the Modesto office, Brown said.

“This strikes very close to home and very deep to the CHP family,” Brown said during a news conference in nearby Salida.

All northbound lanes of Highway 99 between Modesto and Stockton were closed Friday morning for the investigation.

Lawrence said officers look for excessive movement when they pull a vehicle over, but they still don’t often know what they’re walking up on.

“Tinted windows are a big concern,” Lawrence said. “Most of the time it’s to make the car look cool, but you don’t know that.”

Drivers should make their hands visible when officers stop them, Lawrence said, “because you don’t know what they have in their car or where they’re going.”

Most people think the murders of CHP officers could only happen in the state’s urban centers, Lawrence said, but that isn’t the case. The last four killed this year were in Ripon, Woodland, rural Kern County and outside of Santa Cruz.

“The Scott Thorpe shootings here proved violence can happen anywhere in the state,” Lawrence said. Thorpe killed three people with a gun in Grass Valley on Jan. 10, 2001, and injured several others.


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