MADERA COUNTY – After 30 years of service to the California Highway Patrol, Sergeant Ed Greene is retiring to do, as he puts it, “anything I feel like.”
Dec. 30 will be the last day on duty for the 52-year-old veteran officer in the Oakhurst division, where he has served since transferring from Mariposa in 2009.
Ed always knew he wanted to be a police officer, following in the footsteps of his father who served in the military police, and was killed during his last tour of duty in Viet Nam when Ed was just 6 years old.
“I knew I wanted to be a fireman or a policeman,” he says. So he did both.
After graduating from Seaside High in Marina, CA, Greene went on to attend Monterey Peninsula College where he earned a degree in Administration of Justice.
While in college, he went through the fire and police academies, serving as both a volunteer firefighter and reserve police officer for the Department of Public Safety in Marina, one of only two California towns that combine both fire and police in one agency.
Following graduation, he became a deputy at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, but his goal was the California Highway Patrol.
After less than a year, during which time he went through testing and background checks for the CHP, they offered him a date to start training at the CHP Academy, and they didn’t have to ask him twice.
The 20-week course, now expanded to 27 weeks, is not for the faint of heart, mind or body. Over 35% of the cadets in Greene’s class didn’t make it to graduation.
“It’s a paramilitary organization,” he says. “Getting up at zero dark thirty, running in formation with a flashlight, shower, go to the mess hall, go to class, often with someone yelling and screaming at you. For some, this might have been the first job they ever had, and they’d never been in a regiment like that.
“But if you can’t take it there with people yelling at you, you’re not going to be able to handle it when you get out on the job and now the motoring public is yelling at you. They get in your face, and you need to be polite and professional and conduct all your enforcement stops in a businesslike manner. The training really prepares you for that.”
After spending four years patrolling in the Monterey area, Greene transferred to Santa Fe Springs in 1988, to Fresno in 1993, and returned to Santa Fe Springs two years later where he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 2002.
“I like being a sergeant,” he says. “There’s a lot of things that you lose when you keep moving up. As the supervisor, I do the briefings, make sure my officers get their beats, answer their calls and stay within policy, but I still get to work out on the road. The backbone of the Highway Patrol is the road patrol officer – the ‘Road Dogs.’”
This time of year, along with the routine patrols, accidents and speeders, Greene says the work involves a lot of dealing with people who travel to the mountains and get themselves into trouble because they’re unprepared.
“People will put themselves in a predicament where they have maybe followed the advice of their GPS, and end up stuck on a back road somewhere with not enough gas, no chains, no blanket, no food or water, no cell signal and now they’re stuck.”
His advice? Disobey the GPS. “Stay on the main paved road. If the roadway has turned to gravel and then dirt, and is so narrow that branches are scraping your car, you’re probably not on the right road.”
As to the job and what it entails, Sgt. Greene says there’s a lot people don’t know about the CHP.
“A lot of people think all we do is write tickets and deal with accidents. But there’s a lot more to the Highway Patrol than you think. We have boats on patrol at the Golden Gate Bridge, CHP aircraft patrol the California Aqueduct to keep people from fishing, swimming and recreating in there. We have SWAT teams and mounted patrols. We also protect government dignitaries and heads of state that come to visit California, and the governor at the state capitol.”
For those interested in joining the CHP, he says there are a lot of opportunities.
“If you want to fly a helicopter or an airplane, ride a motorcycle, ride a horse – we even have bicycle patrols. It’s a great way to sneak up on people.”
One thing the sergeant says he’s learned over his 30 years of wearing the badge – the most important part of the job, is listening. Both to other officers and to the members of the public with whom they come in contact every day.
“Sometimes people are just having a bad day,” he says. “And sometimes the spirit of the law works better than the letter of the law. You really have to learn to listen to people, and I tell my officers that sometimes a verbal warning will work just as well as writing someone a ticket. Maybe they’re getting a divorce, maybe their dog just got run over, maybe their grandmother just died. You need to know how to listen.”
The key to success on the job and at home, he says, is to leave the job at the office. He does his best not to bring the work home with him.
As his last day in uniform approaches, Ed is looking forward to spending time with his 10-year-old daughter Annalise.
“I took my boys to a lot of the National Parks,” he says. “I haven’t had a chance to do that kind of thing with my daughter.”
Ed and his wife Sharon, who is a sales rep for Josten’s, have two older sons. Brandon, 24, is the night crew supervisor at Vons, and Nicolas, 20, is in his second year at West Point, with the goal of becoming a trauma surgeon.
The greatest reward for his 30 years of service will be having time to focus on his family, be more involved in his daughter’s activities at school, and continue to give back to the community. His wife also has a few projects around the house and the property that he is looking forward to tackling.
What will he miss most about the job?
“The camaraderie,” he says without hesitation. “Working with the other officers. Working with the allied agencies. You get to meet a lot of great people on the job. The people from the Sheriff’s Office, the Fire Department, Sierra Ambulance, the Forest Service, PG&E, Sierra Tel, Cal Trans and County Roads, the tow truck drivers… you get to know them. They become your friends, and we all work really well together.”
But for now, Ed is looking forward to trips to Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest and other natural wonders that he and his wife want to share with their daughter.
“I want to do some camping, fishing, hiking and traveling. I just want to enjoy my retirement and spend more time with my kids.”