By Dorothy Segovia

When the movie Nine to Five had Dolly, Jane and Lily taking charge of their dreary office routine 20 years ago, Diane Hartz was well into her career with the California Highway Patrol. In fact, 2004 is the 30-year anniversary of women officers in the California Highway Patrol.

Diane was one of the first female cadets accepted to the CHP training class in 1974 when women broke through the glass helmet. Prior to this, regulations mandated that women could only work for the department in non-officer jobs. Women challenged the regulations in federal court and won. That’s when the Women Traffic Officer Project was created. The project was a two-year experiment to determine whether women were able to effectively perform state traffic officer duties. Diane was one of 42 applicants chosen out of 12,000 females. Since then, Diane has spent the majority of her career patrolling the highways of Orange County, proving that women can succeed in what was once exclusively a profession for men.

While most days on the CHP are routine, there are the occasional high-speed car chases, helicopter rescues and life saving encounters with private citizens to get the heart revved up, and Diane along with many other brave women and men conquer these challenging occurrences with unprecedented courage.

One of the most dramatic events Diane remembers was after the arrest of a drunk driver. While transporting the driver to the sheriff’s station she passed a slow moving vehicle. That same vehicle then whizzed by her in excess of 85 miles per hour. Diane gave chase; with her inebriated and sleeping passenger on board. Diane stayed on the tail of the driver until the woman crashed directly into a bridge abutment and was killed.

Recalling the incident, Diane mused, “It probably was a suicide. The woman drew my attention just to have someone watch her do this. And my passenger didn’t wake up until after we arrived at the station.”

“I don’t think I ever was afraid,” Diane continued. “My training was good, so I felt prepared, but the chase definitely had my adrenaline rushing.”

Adequate training and rush of adrenalin must also have been the driving force behind the two CHP women who, according to the CHP website, have been awarded the Governor’s Medal of Valor, the highest honor given to a state employee.

With flames raging around them from the engine compartment and the melting dashboard, Sgt. Lynne Blum of West Los Angeles along with her partner Officer Troy King rescued a victim from a burning vehicle on August 22, 2002. The partners pulled the driver from his vehicle just as the trucks passenger compartment burst into flames.

In a similar fashion Officer Melissa Handley of South Los Angeles pulled a crash victim from the path of a speeding vehicle, on November 4, 2001. As the victim was walking toward Handley, a pickup truck went into an uncontrolled skid. She exited her patrol car, grabbed the victim and pulled her from her feet and away from danger. The truck narrowly missed both of them, collided with the open patrol car door and slammed into the disabled vehicle.

While many of the officers have isolated intense incidents, performing search and rescue missions, medical transport and crimes in progress sum up a typical day for Diane Clark a pilot assigned to the Coastal Division Air Operations unit. Diane received her fixed wing training as a civilian and learned to fly a chopper while in the army. True to her nature, Diane spends her time off in a unique way: Caring for her 20 acre almond orchard.

As evidence has proved, this is not a profession for the timid and for this reason the requirements for joining the California Highway Patrol are extensive. A candidate must proceed through the phases of written examination, panel interview and the Physical Ability Test. The Physical Ability test measures endurance, flexibility and strength. The exercises consist of the 100-yard sprint, upper body strength test, trunk strength flexion test, side step and a 500-yard run. Once a candidate passes these tests, she must undergo background, medical and psychological tests.

Sergeant Hartz explains, “This career isn’t for everyone. But for me, it worked. I was in top physical shape, and academically, I was in the top of the class. I also liked doing my own thing and enjoyed working the afternoon shift alone.”

Like a lot of things women do over time, family support equals major back up to a career that has weekends and holidays on the schedule. When I asked Diane about any obstacles on the home front, she chuckled.

“Not at all, and if there was, it didn’t matter. I was going to do what I wanted anyway.”

It is this unique determination and strength of character that makes these women shine; congratulations on 30 impressive years.

To learn more about the Women of the CHP click here.

© Melt Magazine 2004