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'I was responding as a backup. I was a few feet away. A few more steps and I could have been a victim, too.' : Brothers Patrol California Highways

November 07, 1985|DEBRA SORRENTINO LARSON | Debra Sorrentino Larson is a Newhall free-lance writer.

When the Pappas family gets together, it's hard to avoid talking shop.

At a recent reunion in the Santa Clarita Valley, brothers Paul, Randy, Doug and Greg Pappas--all California Highway Patrol officers--had a lot of notes to compare. There was rookie officer Paul's new assignment and Doug's recent promotion to sergeant.

And, of course, there was the fact that Paul's graduation from CHP training school in August marked the first time in the patrol's 56-year history that four brothers, each of whom ranked highest academically in his cadet class, had served among the state's 5,543 traffic officers.

Benefits, Pitfalls

But, although the brothers easily traded shop talk at the kitchen table of Paul's airy home, explaining why they all chose the same profession proved a bit more difficult.

Paul ventured that it might have been because their father, George Pappas, once worked in a small police department and later served as a reserve officer.

As each became a CHP officer, he encouraged the others to enter the profession by candidly describing the benefits and pitfalls of the job. They also shared knowledge of what to expect from the rigorous 20-week cadet training at the CHP academy in Bryte, north of Sacramento. The academy has a 35% attrition rate. "The first day, I was never so stressed in my life," Paul said.

Each brother has entered a slightly different area of law enforcement. Sgt. Randy Pappas, 35, was the first to join the patrol in 1973 and is assigned to Central Los Angeles; Sgt. Doug Pappas, 27, joined in 1980 and is assigned to the Clear Lake area of Northern California; Officer Greg Pappas, 26, joined in 1981 and patrols near Williams, north of Sacramento, and Officer Paul Pappas, 30, patrols the Santa Clarita Valley.

Pondered His Mortality

Randy, described by Greg as possessing the most "gung-ho" enthusiasm toward the patrol, certainly is the most physically imposing. At 5-foot-11 and nearly 200 pounds, he conveys the authoritative demeanor one associates with a patrolman.

"I plan to go on (with the CHP) until I'm at least 50," he said.

Randy recalled one night when the slaying of a deputy sheriff prompted him to ponder his own mortality. "I was responding as a backup. I was a few feet away. A few more steps and I could have been

a victim, too," he said. "You always wonder also when you get done with a high-speed chase."

In contrast with Randy's inner-city beat, Doug's and Greg's assigned areas are in adjoining counties with populations of 50,000 and 15,000 respectively, providing far less daily drama than Los Angeles.

Doug had wanted to join the department since he was a teen-ager. "I was interested in law enforcement generally, but specifically in the patrol because of the image they portrayed--it seemed more professional." Once he graduated from the academy, he requested an assignment to Northern California, where he and his brothers were raised and attended college.

In the picturesque Clear Lake area north of San Francisco, he is among two sergeants responsible for 20 officers, and often fields at-home calls for problems ranging from hazardous-material spills to personnel assignments.

Sleep Interrupted

The week before the reunion, his sleep was interrupted three nights. "One night, a felony drunk driver at a hospital was refusing to take a blood test," he recalled.

The rustic atmosphere appeals to Doug more than a metropolitan environment, and on weekends he jogs and camps.

Greg, according to Paul, takes a "handyman-type approach" to his work, relying on his instincts to solve problems. The easy-going youngest brother said he doesn't let job pressures bother him and, for relaxation, customizes cars. Greg studied auto body work in college, and now does auto painting. "My original vehicle was a '54 Ford pickup, and I plan to restore it myself," he said.

Assigned to an area about 45 miles from Doug's territory, Greg plans to remain in Northern California and eschews a hectic city pace. "I don't think I could adapt to the high pressure," he said.

Switched from Aviation Job

Rookie Paul switched to law enforcement from an aviation job that had afforded him much travel. In September, he finished his break-in training and now works the graveyard shift, where he sees mostly drunk-driving activity.

After his year-long probation ends, Paul plans to request a transfer to the Red Bluff area of Northern California, where his parents, George and Lavita, live with their 15-year-old daughter, Angelee.

The Pappas brothers think there are some misconceptions about CHP officers. "People believe we have a quota, especially when they are getting citations," Randy said, as the others nodded in agreement.

In fact, he said, none exists. "One of our primary objectives is to provide service and information, after accident prevention. Arrests are third or fourth on the list."

Handed Him Cash

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