Editor's note: This special unit profile is the latest in a series of Web-exclusive career profiles on PoliceMag.com. Read more profiles here.
The commercial enforcement officers of the Torrance (Calif.) Police Department rarely issue citations to interstate truckers in this Los Angeles suburb. They're more likely to encounter violators operating mid-sized commercial vehicles with violations such as a pile of unsecured palettes, a 20-foot palm tree clipping electrical line, and a driver using a bungee cord for a seatbelt.
For Craig Durling, the lead officer of the unit, enforcing violations on commercial vehicles comes with a responsibility to educate violators on what they're doing wrong to prevent repeat violations and keep other motorists safe. Giving out a citation just to give out a citation, or for a citation's revenue, is never the goal.
"I never want to send a violator away without him or her having an understanding of what the violation was," Durling says.
"I've never let the fines drive me. I'm looking to make my streets safer by helping commercial vehicle drivers and owners do their job as safe as possible," he adds.
Durling submits his citations to the court and leaves the fines to them. None of the revenue from traffic citations, commercial or otherwise, goes directly to the Torrance PD. Only a small portion of the revenue goes into the city's fund, and the rest goes to the state.
The two-officer unit is primarily responsible for identifying and focusing enforcement on problem locations and situations involving commercial vehicles. Durling says the unit is open to any officer who has graduated from his or her probationary period. An interest in traffic enforcement is a must, and a certification course from the California Highway Patrol must be taken. He says the training never ends since regulations are always changing. Any officer interested in joining the unit must be open to continual learning.
The job isn't always a clean one, Durling says, and officers who want to be in the unit can't be afraid of getting their hands or uniforms dirty.
"Crawling under a leaking garbage truck in the middle of August to inspect brake-system components may not be glamorous, but it's absolutely necessary to do the job," Durling says.
Visibility is another important part of what the unit does in its territory. Torrance's commercial enforcement officers must remain in the consciousness of passing drivers.
"We make our presence known," Durling says. "The knowledge that we're out there, since most cities don't have full-time commercial enforcement units, is one of the most effective tools since it can prevent problems before they occur."
The unit's officers must carry a set of tools that may be unfamiliar to most patrol officers, including portable truck scales and measuring poles. However, the unit's most effective tool may be the officers' knowledge of applicable codes and regulations.
"We make sure we get it right," Durling says.
The unit is at its busiest during commuting hours on weekdays. During those hours, most drivers are eager to get home for the day and sometimes take dangerous shortcuts. Durling adds that trucks transporting construction debris in one load should transport it in two or three loads to avoid countless violations. Those truckers put the safety of other motorists at risk.
The unit averages about 1,500 citations a year, including commercial and passenger vehicles, as well as misdemeanor arrests.
The unit sees a wide range of violations that often stem from unsecured heavy loads, spilled cargo or failure to comply with one of the numerous regulations for hauling cargo spelled out in the California Vehicle Code.
Because they work outdoors most of the time, Torrance PD commercial enforcement officers must be prepared for the possible dangerous effects of the elements.
"Many violations, such as overweight conditions, or securement violations, can become exponentially more dangerous when the roadway is wet," Durling says.
He adds that open loads become heavier when they get wet and can affect stopping distancing and braking efficiency. The environment can be different day to day, so officers have to be ready for the effects of the weather on drivers.
"I stopped a pickup truck a while back that was transporting a tree," Durling says. "The problem was that the tree was 20 feet tall, and it was standing up in the bed of the truck, and clipping power lines."
Whatever situation the work day may hold for the unit, when they get on the field they have each other's backs and are ready to take on whatever the day brings.
"Commercial enforcement officers rely heavily on each other," Durling says. "We're a tightly knit group and each officer has areas in which he or she may have a better working knowledge or expertise than another."
Jack Chavdarian is an editorial assistant for POLICE Magazine.