BY JULIE FARREN
Laura Quattlebaum saw a newspaper advertisement 30 years ago seeking officers for the California Highway Patrol.
Quattlebaum, now 52 and a 1985 Beaumont High School alumna, graduated from California Baptist University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts and was planning to be a teacher.
But she was intrigued with the employment ad for the CHP and decided to apply. She says she never had the desire to be a cop prior to seeing the ad.
Still, she went ahead with the CHP application and was accepted into the CHP Academy in Sacramento, where she drove cars, shot guns and loved the team environment.
The CHP paid for the academy training, and Quattlebaum loved every minute of it.
“It’s a very controlled environment,” says Quattlebaum, who lives in Palm Desert. “You didn’t get to come and go. I thrived on it.”
Quattlebaum graduated as a CHP cadet in 1989.
Today, she is one of only three women in the state who are assistant chiefs for the California Highway Patrol.
She began her role in January 2018 and oversees Riverside County, from Temecula to Blythe.
Her life is different than the one she envisioned for herself: born in Indio to Raymond and Phyllis Lewis, Quattlebaum is one of five children whose siblings include Daniel, David, Donald and Catherine.
Raymond Lewis worked for Kaiser Steel and retired from there. Phyllis Lewis taught fifth-grade at Summit Elementary School in Beaumont and Three Rings Ranch Elementary School before she retired.
The family moved to Beaumont when Laura was a junior at Beaumont High School, which was at the current San Gorgonio Middle School site.
Quattlebaum says that she loved living in Beaumont, which was not a big town in the late 1980s.
She remembers going to Banning for the fast food restaurants, and she worked at KFC through high school.
“To me, this was a big town,” recalls Quattlebaum, speaking about Beaumont.
She received a full-ride basketball scholarship to California Baptist University. Quattlebaum notes that she was a member of the Beaumont High School Girls Varsity Basketball Team that won the CIF Finals in 1983 under Coach Alex Boyd.
She also worked at Merv Griffin Childhelp Village while she was in college.
After graduating from California Baptist University, Quattlebaum took a different path and applied to CHP.
“It only took me four months to get through the whole process,” Quattlebaum says.
According to CHP Public Information Officer Darren Meyer, most classes have 150 applicants — 50 of whom are women.
Quattlebaum says that the academy is structured and regimented, similar to military training.
When she graduated, she was given a list of area field offices, and she chose Santa Fe Springs.
Quattlebaum worked there from 1989 to 1996 and says that she had the best time. She also worked in the Southern Division, in Glendale, as a staff service officer and dignitary protection.
Quattlebaum says she has protected such notorieties as Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, and the Dalai Lama.
She was impressed with Gingrich.
“Newt Gingrich was very friendly,” Quattlebaum says. “What I noticed and liked about him was how he was very open to the public.’’
She did not get a chance to talk to the Dalai Lama.
Quattlebaum married in 1995 and then went on light duty when she became pregnant with her daughter Jordan in 1997, and two years later her son Jacob.
Quattlebaum became an officer in 1997 and remained in that position until 2003.
She became a public information officer and also ran a radio show called CHIP CHATS with Lt. Eric Nolte once a week.
They would talk about topics such as seat belts and safety, and the public could call in with questions.
The hourlong show, which aired on Thursday nights, lasted a year. “We ran out of topics,” Quattlebaum says.
Being a public information officer taught her how good a community can be to law enforcement, Quattlebaum says.
From 2002 to 2012, she was promoted to sergeant, then lieutenant commander and then captain, working in Blythe, Morongo Basin, the scales and in Indio.
In January 2018, the was promoted to assistant chief of the Border Division, which is based in San Diego.
Quattlebaum works in Palm Desert.
“I like it because I get to work with all of the different commanders,” she says.
She strives to recruit females to join the CHP.
Quattlebaum believes that it is a rewarding life for women, but it can also be a challenge to balance work and family when attending academy.
“It’s tough when they have kids,” she says. “You have to leave your families for six months.”
It also can be a dangerous job, but Quattlebaum points out, as she has experienced a few altercations in her three decades with CHP.
Quattlebaum, who divorced and then remarried, says that it can be a challenging job, but “women have the tools. We have a different perspective.”
Being an assistant chief is a time-consuming job. “My job is to be available 24/7 to our commanders,” Quattlebaum says.
She enjoys returning to Beaumont when she can and seeing the growth of this community.
Quattlebaum says that the traffic on Highland Springs has dramatically increased as the town has grown.
The CHP office on Highland Springs also is new, Quattlebaum says.
Retirement is not an option right now, because Quattlebaum enjoys her work.
“I just play it month by month, as long as I can give 100 percent,’’ she says.
Quattlebaum also has taught an administration of justice program at College of the Desert for the past eight years.
She loves sharing her stories with her young students who are freshmen and sophomores.
Overall, Quattlebaum feels fortunate to have a career that has kept her interested for 30 years and one that affords her the opportunity to help people in need.
“It’s fueled me every day,” she says.
Staff Writer Julie Farren may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , or by calling (951) 849-4586 x119.