In the wake of Newhall, as the department, the public and the law enforcement community as a whole was grappling with the shock of losing four officers to violence, a series of newspaper reporters flocked to the CHP Academy on Meadowview Road in Sacramento looking for answers. They found an efficient and professionally run academy that was heavily engaged in the task of pumping out officers to meet the increasing demands of the public and legislature.
The reporters who visited the Meadowview academy were treated to a show that was carefully orchestrated by the CHP, and left Meadowview suitably impressed with the state of CHP training to intimate that whatever happened at Newhall was not the result of the training they had received.1 Readers were regaled with detailed descriptions of the academy’s 900 hour, 16 week curriculum, learned about the highly competitive screening process and the exceptional caliber of the recruits, and heard firsthand from the men responsible for training them about the low attrition rate and the superior results achieved in training.2
To be fair, the CHP had a lot to be proud of. At this time in American law enforcement, many agencies throughout the nation still did not have formal training academies for their officers, instead preferring to teach them the skills they needed “on the job.” The state of the art training facilities, rigorous training programs, and highly professional instructor staff at the CHP Academy made it a recognized standout among its peers, which is why the academy frequently hosted visits from agencies throughout the world and trained selected officers from all over the globe. Even so, the reporters’ visit was heavily scripted to deliver the right message.
Significantly, the reporters were treated to a demonstration of “enforcement tactics” in which officers removed suspects from a vehicle at gunpoint, using techniques that would later form the core of what the law enforcement community generically labeled “felony stop procedures.” From behind the cover of their vehicles, the officers commanded the driver to display hands, slide across the seat, open the passenger side door from the outside, and exit out through the passenger side with hands visible. The suspect was directed into a kneeling position with hands on his head and covered by one officer who remained ensconced behind the open door of the patrol car with weapon drawn as his partner approached, frisked and cuffed the suspect, taking him into custody.
This tactics demonstration occurred a mere seven days after the Newhall shooting.
How can this be? It’s an article of faith among many that the officers in Newhall were inadequately trained (even untrained) in “felony stop procedures” during their time at the academy, and this was the principal reason for the events that followed. While it’s true that the classic “felony stop” procedure which evolved after Newhall would greatly improve on many aspects of the demonstration described above, the drill displays a higher level of tactical innovation and competence than the CHP is typically given credit for. If this drill truly reflected the state of CHP training prior to Newhall, then the commonly accepted “truth” that the academy failed Officers Gore, Frago, Pence and Alleyn because it didn’t provide basic skills in felony stop procedures is debunked. Had they executed the procedures demonstrated in the drill, unsophisticated as they are by later standards, is it hard to believe that Davis and Twining might have been taken into custody that evening in the parking lot of J’s?
The truth of the matter is that the issue of CHP training, and particularly “felony stop” training, is complex and the simple conclusions drawn by many observers in law enforcement might work neatly in their narratives of Newhall, but they are incomplete and in many cases inaccurate. Further analysis is required to develop a more balanced and accurate portrait of CHP procedures and training, circa 1970...
Mike Wood’s book, Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, is available in electronic and paperback formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple ITunes, GunDigestStore.Com, and other popular retailers. Please see the official website at www.newhallshooting.com for additional information.