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New CHP commander in the driver's seat
Lt. Jennings has roots in the county
The Porterville-area California Highway Patrol has a new commander.
Lt. Eric Jennings, a Visalia native and a 24-year veteran of the CHP, took charge of the local office on Oct. 31 and replaces James Swearingen, who retired in August.
As commander, Jennings is responsible for overseeing two clerical personnel, three officers who work in the office and 25 additional officers who patrol the roads.
Jennings began his career with law enforcement as a deputy with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, though he had begun testing with the CHP. While working at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility, he received a job offer from the CHP.
“I said yes and the rest is history,” Jennings said.
In 2008, he worked as a sergeant at the Visalia CHP office, receiving a promotion to the rank of lieutenant. Soon after, he and his family relocated to Monterey, where he worked for two and a half years before taking a command position at the Gilroy Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility. Roughly two years later, the Porterville position became available.
“I told my wife and she said ‘why don’t we just go back home?’” he said.
Jennings said adapting to the new environment was not an issue.
“Our Monterey office is in Salinas, so it’s very much like the Central Valley; an agricultural-based, farming community. There area lot of similarities there so I felt right at home,” he said.
The Porterville-area CHP has jurisdiction over the southeastern portion of Tulare County; roughly 1,022 miles of unincorporated road and about 2,200 miles of territory.
Jennings said some of the challenges facing the local office, like most law enforcement agencies statewide, is funding.
“Funding is a huge challenge right now and obtaining the necessary resources, equipment and personnel,” he said. “Our ultimate goal here as a CHP office is saving lives and we do that through education, enforcement and engineering.”
The son of a former sheriff’s reserve deputy, Jennings, 47, said he finds his job exciting and filled with adrenaline, though he has seen his share of tragedies.
There is one collision in particular that stands out, Jennings said.
In April of 2009, five people were killed when a tour bus carrying 36 French and Canadian tourists visiting wine country in the Monterey Peninsula, crashed on Highway 101.
“Trying to coordinate the emergency response, dealing with locating family members who are in France and trying to deal with people who did not speak English was a difficult task,” he said.
Witnessing incidents like these is not easy, the father of two said.
“Any fatality is notable because you have a loss of life, particularly children is very troubling,” he said. “It has a more prolific impact on you as you become a parent. Once I became parent I started to see it a little bit differently and it hit home a little bit more.”
He said these incidents also serve to fuel his passion.
“As far as my conviction; trying to provide safety, protect citizens, any way I can in my position, whether it be as an officer, sergeant, or lieutenant,” he said. “Everything I do is geared toward the safety of the motoring public.”
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.