CHP officer to retire Friday, but he has his fellow officer, his son, to carry on his legacy

By Lou Ponsi

For the past seven months, two CHP officers have been rolling out of the Westminster CHP station simultaneously each day to start their shift.

The pair returns to the station at about the same time at the end of the shift.

They’ve patrolled the same Orange County freeways and responded to the same calls, one officer arriving on a CHP motorcycle and the other arriving in a patrol unit.

The routine comes to an end soon, when one of the officers wraps up a 28-year law enforcement career with the CHP.

The other will be with the CHP for quite a while longer.

The two CHP officers are Tony Nguyen and Stephen Nguyen. They’re father and son.

Tony was on the job about a year, when Stephen, his oldest child, was born.

For Stephen, now 26, the CHP became an extended family.

“Growing up, that’s all I knew that he did,” said Stephen, 26, of his father’s career. “I always looked up to him.”

When Tony watched Stephen embark on the same career path and with the same agency, he saw it as a special opportunity.

“As soon as he graduated the academy, I said we’re going to work together one day,” said Tony, who spent most of the past 24 years working out of CHP’s Rancho Cucamonga station, the past 18 on a motorcycle. “I thought I was going to retire (in Rancho Cucamonga), but I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to work side by side with my son.”

California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Nguyen, left, talks about working with his son, CHP Officer Stephen Nguyen, before his retirement in a couple of days.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

After going through the academy followed by a year of probation on the job in San Francisco, Stephen transferred to Westminster in March.

His father joined him a short time later.

“When we’re out there on the highway, we’re partners,” Tony said. “We work close. We respond to each other’s calls. We’re not father-son. We have a job to do out there. It’s only when we sit down at lunch or something, that the father-son talk comes up.”

Tony, who was born in Vietnam and has seven siblings, was the only one in his family who was able to flee the country during the fall of Saigon in 1975.

He was 7 and was sponsored to come to the U.S. by a church in Pomona.

When Tony turned 18, he sponsored the rest of his family to come to the U.S. after not seeing them for 14 years.

Growing up in Pomona, Tony hadn’t really considered a career in law enforcement but had a close friend who applied to the CHP, so he applied too.

“Looking back, I’m glad I chose this department,” he said. “We’re really professional. It’s a well-run organization.”

When his son wanted to pursue the same profession and with the same agency, Tony was thrilled.

“I let him know that when he turns 21, he can test and apply when he wanted to,” dad said. “I was very proud. One, because he passed, which is very hard to do, and of course in a career that he followed in my footsteps.”

The father and son spoke often during Stephen’s time in the academy and stayed connected during the months after graduation.

CHP Motor Officer Tony Nguyen, left, with his son, CHP Officer Stephen Nguyen, just days before Tony’s retirement.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“Physically and emotionally,” Tony said he’s ready for retirement, but will definitely be talking shop with his son.

While the job is timeless in many ways, there are stark differences between the law enforcement career Tony entered 28 years ago and the law enforcement career his son works in today, said Cpt. Brian Lee, commander of the Westminster station.

“When Tony came on, everything was done in pencil and paper,” Lee said. “It was done right there on the side of the road in most cases. In Stephen’s case, technology is going to surpass everything hand written.”

Like his father, Stephen plans to go from car to motorcycle and has already purchased a bike nearly identical to those used by CHP motor officers.

But Tony has set the bar high for his son. In 28 years, he has never had an accident.

Lee is just glad he’ll have one member of the family still around.

“They have the kind of temperament we like to see in law enforcement,” Lee said. “They are very good with people. They are very even keeled. And they are very professional with how they conduct business both inside the organization and in public. And they are just good people at heart. The legacy continues in the Nguyen family.”