The California Highway Patrol’s Temecula Area office has a new face in charge.
Capt. Jason Penner comes to Temecula March 11, after running the CHP’s El Cajon office.
Penner has extensive experience as a CHP officer in various parts of the state. He’s worked in El Centro, Santa Cruz, San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside and other cities in various jobs, having worked his way up through the ranks and serving as a lieutenant for the auto theft unit before being promoted to captain.
But he’s not actually a native Californian – in fact, he’s a Canadian, born and raised in Invermere, British Columbia.
Penner said he’d always dreamed of coming to California after visiting at the age of 13.
Seeing Disneyland and the sunny weather “just confirmed everything I thought about California,” Penner said.
Years after that visit, the CHP offered him the chance to make the state his home.
Penner said while attending college in Canada, he had begun looking into law enforcement careers, but he was facing limited openings there. Getting the idea to apply in California from a television show “ChiPs” from the 70s and 80s, he learned the CHP was hiring.
Penner happens to be a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Canada – his mother is American – so there was nothing stopping him from moving.
Now in his 24th year as a CHP officer, Penner said Temecula is his 13th assignment.
Despite his various postings, Penner is actually no stranger to the Temecula Valley. He’s lived here for 16 years. For much of his time at various CHP offices around Southern California, he’s been commuting from Temecula every day.
“I’ve commuted all the roads we have to cover,” he said.
That’s certainly a help in managing one lieutenant, five sergeants, 40 officers, seven non-uniformed positions, 17 senior volunteers and 15 explorers across a 900-square-mile jurisdiction encompassing all of southwest Riverside County.
Penner said his familiarity with local roads means he’s familiar with local problems, saying he knows about traffic concerns in the region and safety problems on the Ortega Highway.
Penner said he’s excited to be working where he lives, not just because it means he no longer has a long daily commute to contend with, but because he loves the area.
“I’ve only been here (at the Temecula office) for a short time, but not since I graduated from the academy have I been so excited to be in one place,” Penner said. “I like Temecula because it’s a small office and I grew up more in a smaller environment, so to me, there’s a comfort level in that.”
However, his appointment to run the Temecula office did come with poor timing, he said. The coronavirus pandemic means Penner can’t do some of the things he was excited to get working on.
“I love going out into the community to hear the problems people have and then coming up with ways to solve those problems,” he said. “I did it in El Cajon, whether it was “coffee with a cop” or town hall meetings.”
He said he finds that type of work rewarding, and it’s unfortunate he won’t be able to do that in Temecula immediately. But he is definitely prepared for the eventual end of the pandemic.
“I’ve got a list of things I want to say and then once this coronavirus thing is over,” he said.
“I see a lot of people on cell phones,” Penner said.
So, look out, Southwest County – Penner isn’t going to tolerate texting and driving.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4:15 p.m. Thursday: This story was updated to correct Penner’s position prior to promoting to Captain, as well as the name of a highway he mentioned. Valley News regrets the errors.