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Blake Mitchell of Ceres traded a career as a construction inspector in the Bay Area for that of a California Highway Patrolman. The 27-year-old Ceres High School graduate is one of 33 new cadets assigned to the Central Division of the California Highway Patrol after graduating April 18 in Sacramento.

Mitchell was encouraged to join the CHP after talking to his cousin's husband who is a CHP officer in Napa.

"He made it sound like a pretty great career," said Mitchell. He said the appeal was doing a job "where you're helping people."

Mitchell joined the CHP's six-month training program in Sacramento on Oct. 15. The work was so hard that not all lasted; of the 188 cadets, 58 dropped out along the way.

In an attempt to intice more candidates, the CHP is trying to allow candidates like Mitchell to stay in their own home area rather than ask them to uproot their families to unfamiliar parts of the state. A third of the new 33 cadets who live within the Central Division get to stay in the area. That's something that is attractive to new candidates.

"This is a great recruitment tool for us because it tells folks that, yeah, you can join our department and stay," said Tom Killian, a Public Information Officer with the Modesto CHP office. "There is a kid from Oakdale who's going to East Los Angeles. That's a deterrent, you find out from a lot of people who are looking for a career in law enforcement."

"We're all very excited for them because number one they're all coming home to their families," said Modesto CHP Chief Willie Godinez. "Number two, they're going to come right back to their community and serve their communities that got them to where they are today. More importantly, if we have our own people they're probably going to stay here. They have a vested interest here."

Because a limited pool of law enforcement candidates are being sought after by the CHP, sheriff's departments and city police agencies, the CHP sped up the time between recruitment to training.

"The testing process used to take anywhere from a year to a year and a half and used to be a major concern. They've expedited it. They've cut it down to way under six months."

The CHP is expanding numbers of officers and replacing retiring officers, said Killian, despite state budget problems.

"We're still recruiting and hiring," said Tom Killian. "We haven't been restricted by the governor's office to slow down our recruitment process."

Killian said that an estimated 25 to 30 officers per month are retiring statewide through attrition.

Finding good candidates has proved challenging. Killian said that some candidates fail background checks due to drug usage or minor criminal records.

The CHP's minimum requirements for candidates are that they be between 20 and 35 years of age, that they have a high school diploma or GED, that they have no felony convictions and at least 20/40 uncorrected vision in each eye. Those interested may call 1 888 4A CHP JOB.

Besides officers, positions are also opening up in clerical and dispatching.

New recruits like Mitchell will be assigned to a Field Training Officer for a few months to acclamate them to the real-world experience of patroling. Once they demonstrate a grasp of what their duties and responsibilities are, said Godinez, they will patrol on their own.

With officer safety being in jeopardy in today's society more and more, officer training focuses on the safest techniques available said Godinez.

"I have no doubt these officers here are far better trained than even the training I received," said Captain Lenley Duncan.

Despite the fact that the career comes with its dangers, Mitchell's wife supported him in his decision.

"When she and I first started talking about joining the Highway Patrol she was a little nervous about it," said Mitchell, a 1999 graduate of Ceres High School. "But just by seeing how much I wanted to do it she was real supportive. She was a big help making it through the Academy."