‘For the right people there’s no better job.’ Atwater CHP officer retires after 30 years

CHP Officer Don Davis retires after 30 years

California Highway Patrol officer Don Davis recently retired after a 30-year career. Davis specialized in traffic collision investigations.
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California Highway Patrol officer Don Davis recently retired after a 30-year career. Davis specialized in traffic collision investigations.

Don Davis isn’t going to miss wearing body armor. It’s the first thing he enjoys taking off at the end of each shift.

Davis, 52, is also looking forward to not having to wear a uniform. He won’t feel all the eyes focused on him when he walks into a restaurant or coffee shop.

Davis recently retired after working 30 years with the California Highway Patrol. Davis’ last day was May 14. He got emotional as he signed off for the final time with many of his colleagues looking on at the CHP Office in Atwater.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to be a police officer,” Davis said.. “That was the one consistent. There was the professional athlete and doctor, but those didn’t work out. Being a police officer was the thing I wanted to do.”

Davis graduated from the academy on Oct. 15, 1989. He’s moved around California during his career with stops in Santa Ana, Oakland, San Jose, Hayward, Modesto and Merced. Davis’ longest stint was 22 years in Modesto before come to Merced in 2017.

“One of the advantages of working with the California Highway Patrol is I’ve had the opportunity to work throughout the state,” Davis said. “I haven’t been tied to just one city or county. I have worked in six different offices.”

It was a day spent in traffic school during Davis’ youth that convinced him he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement. The officer who worked at his traffic school left an impression on him.

“It was his knowledge of the vehicle code,” Davis said. “We’d ask him questions about the law and he’d have an instant response.”

Davis specializes in accident investigations. He was part of the team that helped investigate the 2014 Kingsburg accident that killed two CHP officers — Juan Gonzalez and Brian Law.

“This department allows you to find what it is you do best and expand on that,” Davis said. “I’ve never been a great crime fighter. I’m not good at auto theft. Anybody can write tickets. I’ve always been good at the technical part of accident investigation.”

One of the big reasons Davis has loved his job is because it has allowed him to go behind the tape and see things the general public can’t see.

That can also be the tough part of the job.

“You learn coping methods because you have to,” he said.. “You don’t have a choice. Some people can’t and they don’t last long on this job. We’ve seen some terrible, horrible things.”

“We use each other for this,” said CHP public information officer Eric Zuniga. “That’s what we’re doing if you see three or four of us in a coffee shop. That’s our way of decompressing.”

Davis says he’s likely seen 100 autopsies. He’s been on the scene of around 1,000 traffic accidents.

The toughest ones are when children are involved.

“Children have to deal with the incidents,” Davis said. “I was at one accident where a boy’s father was killed. He was a 5-year-old boy and he asked the officer, ‘How long is my daddy going to be dead?’ It’s seeing the autopsy of a 7-year-old girl when you have a 7-year-old daughter at home. Things like that get to you.”

Still, he said the job has been a good one. “There are some unhappy aspects of it, but for the right people, there’s no better job,” he said.