Inside job: Media ‘Boot Camp’ provides insight to CHP life | TheUnion.com

Inside job: Media ‘Boot Camp’ provides insight to CHP life

You've received reports of suspicious activity going on behind the DMV office. You arrive to find a man with his head down mumbling to himself. When he looks up to notice that the person who is approaching is an armed officer of the law, the man pulls a knife on himself and eventually threatens you, the responding officer, with the knife.

What do you do?

Television shows like C.O.P.S. give the viewer a glimpse into what it's like to be an officer of the law. Main stream media emblazons images of police brutality and viral videos that usually show only a portion of the whole picture, making it easy for the viewer to assume that the officer should have reacted differently.

But imagine it's you who carries the badge, the gun, the Taser, the pepper spray and hand cuffs, and you are charged with the task of disarming the man and the situation.

This situation, and others, became a real-time learning experience for myself and other members of the media invited to take part in the California Highway Patrol's Media Boot Camp, held at their training academy last week in West Sacramento.

Every CHP officer in the state must first pass through the academy here before becoming a sworn CHP officer, so when I received an invitation to peer into this very limited access academy, I was all in.

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There was one catch though.

Involvement by attending reporters is mandatory.

That means taking part in the fun aspect of the training, like driving the Dodge Chargers in the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course, and firing police-issue side arms in the firing range. But also the not so fun. Like the physical training aspect where a drill sergeant is screaming in your face, providing what they refer to as enhanced audible direction.

Physical Training

The day began as a reunion of the sorts between members of the media gathered from organizations as far north as the Del Norte Triplicate, and as far south as the Turlock Journal.

After observing the actual CHP cadets raise the flag and march around in perfection, we were called to begin marching, running the track, navigating the obstacle course and singing cadences all along.

The purpose of the "boot camp" is to provide us members of the media, and our readers, a glimpse into the life of a CHP cadet.

"Those of you who are taking part in the media boot camp, your training starts now!" Sergeant Austin Matulonis said. "On the command of fall in, you will fall in, is that understood? Is that understood?!"

I used to run cross country and play soccer in high school, and I'd like to think of myself as a relatively fit person. Even still, I was not prepared for the intense workout of diamond pushups, interspersed with jumping jacks and sit-ups, but knowing there was an EMT on site was somewhat comforting.

Enforcement Tactics

It wasn't until after lunch that our "boot camp" got serious, putting us media cadets into simulations that CHP officers deal with on a day to day basis.

First up was media cadet Frankie Tovar, a Digital Content Manager and Producer from Studio 209 TV out of Stanislaus County.

Tovar was given a sidearm loaded with Simunitions ammunition, a Taser, and pepper spray before given a traffic stop simulation where Tovar subsequently shot the subject who pulled a phone from his pocket unexpectedly.

Officer Ukau Dungca gave the post simulation briefing.

"It's very easy for people to make assumptions or to second guess anyone's actions from the comfort of their homes or watching a slow video where they can pick the thing apart," Dungca said. "It's a lot more difficult to put yourself in the officer's boots at that moment, on the side of the freeway where someone is acting in an aggressive manner, obscuring their hands, and you're not quite sure what's happening. So in that split second you have to make a decision, and you made that decision obviously you're going to have to live with that, but we have to ask yourself, is that objective reasonable based on the circumstances? And I would tend to agree with you."

My simulation ended in a more positive way when I successfully subdued the man mentioned in the beginning of this article, separating him from his knife.

"Not all bad," Officer Dungca said to me. "You want a gig? We could use you here."

I felt glad that I had disarmed the threat and no one was injured or lost their lives.

"You know what? No one's ever been taught a knife kick," Officer Dungca said to me. "It's just all of that television you've seen."

Debrief

I told the training officers of the CHP that I don't envy their jobs for one minute.

Being put into that split-second situation where people's lives are in your hands is not fun.

That being said, I did enjoy the media boot camp experience and for a split second even thought of applying to the academy myself, which made The Union editor Brian Hamilton a little nervous.

I assured him though, that being a member of the media is a service to the public all its own, and until I see a slew of applicants lining up to become members of the media, that he's stuck with me.

To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez, call 530-477-4230, or email efunez@theunion.com.