To Protect and To Serve

by Liz Brown Hanelt
California, USA

I live in California, and do a lot of driving on the San Francisco Bay Area freeways. Often I see different local police cars, or those of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) zooming past. Sometimes they’re parked by the side of the road where they may have pulled over a motorist; sometimes they’re assisting at an accident scene.

When I see this, I try to remind myself that the police are meant to be there to help people, to enforce the laws, and to try to keep the public safe.

Perhaps because I’m white, middle class, and drive a decent-looking car, I rarely have been subjected to a traffic stop. Yet I often do feel fear in the pit of my stomach when I see the flashing lights of a police car in my rear view mirror.

In August of 2011 I was heading home from a visit to my mom, who lives in Sacramento. Driving south down Highway 880 I noticed flashing lights in my rear view mirror. A CHP car was coming up fast on the right, lights and sirens going.

Protect and ServeI slowed down just in case, as did all the cars around me, to around 50 mph. The CHP officer drove up to just ahead of the pack of cars I was in. Then he did the most extraordinary thing.

From the right lane of the freeway he began to zigzag back and forth across all four lanes, at around 60 mph to start with, lights flashing. He repeated this maneuver around 10 times, slowing down slightly with each crossing of the four or five lanes of freeway.

This effectively slowed the entire pack of cars, until we were all moving at 20 mph or less. He maintained about a 50-yard lead on the pack, and everyone around me carefully kept that distance.

Every car in the pack following him stopped when he pulled up in the number two lane, got out of the car, grabbed a big piece of shredded retread from a semi-truck’s tire, and threw it safely onto the edge of the freeway.

He got back in his car, door still open, and drove over to the next piece of retread, in the #3 lane, which was small enough that he bent over, picked it up while still seated, and threw it into the driver’s side of his car.

He repeated doing this, moving from piece to piece, until the hazard was completely cleared. We continued to follow him, very slowly. This entire incident took ten minutes.

In today’s world, it’s hard to keep faith that we’re here to take care of each other, and so easy to let cynicism take root. To the CHP officer: Thank you for plunging in to do what had to be done to keep our highways and drivers safer. Thank you for my moment of renewed faith in humanity.

Originally published as HeroicStories #847 on March 21, 2012

2 thoughts on “To Protect and To Serve”

  1. I’ve witnessed state patrol doing the same moves on the turnpike in New Jersey.
    I don’t know why they were doing it, but it obvious they wanted to slow traffic.

  2. What great thinking – I would have had no idea how to stop multiple lines of traffic. And getting out of a vehicle on a highway is dangerous. I’m so glad it was effective and he was able to safely do this good deed.


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