For nearly eight years, Officer Rich Kanger and retired Reserve Officer Larry Benoit started their days together the same way: in prayer.
Their spiritual bond, they say, is what made them such a dynamic team for the La Habra Police Department’s first Commercial Enforcement Unit.
“Our faith kept us grounded,” Kanger said. “We had a desire to do this job with the highest integrity.”
Kanger and Benoit were responsible for ensuring commercial trucks traveled La Habra streets safely.
“We put a lot of trucks out of service because we wouldn’t compromise on anything safety related,” Kanger, 50, said. “You really have to know what you’re doing with this job because the consequences can be fatal.”
The pair, on Wednesday, Dec. 10, was honored for their service by the Allied Agency Commercial Officers Network at the California Highway Patrol’s Border Division office in Orange.
Kanger, La Habra’s 2014 Officer of the Year, and Benoit were among six commercial enforcement officers retiring (or recently retired) from the team.
Benoit, 61, retired in March and Kanger’s last day with La Habra PD will be Dec. 17.
“They looked at this job as their calling,” said Traffic Sgt. Jim Tigner. “They are the epitome of professional police officers being of service to a community.”
Kanger was sure he one day would pitch for the California Angels (which, at the time of his dream, were not the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim).
He never missed a game, even on school nights.
Kanger completed his homework under the stadium lights fantasizing of one day standing on that mound throwing a fastball that rivaled Rich “Goose” Gossage’s.
That changed when he took an elective at Fullerton College called “Law Enforcement and the Layman.”
“That was it,” he said. “It sparked my interest.”
Kanger joined La Habra PD in 1984 and has worked homicide, narcotics, crimes against persons and crimes against property, among other assignments.
“It’s easiest to say I never taught DARE and I never did K-9,” Kanger said. “I did everything else.”
He grew out a waist-long beard and an equally long mane when he worked narcotics, earning him the nickname Moses.
Kanger also was part of the largest psilocybin mushroom drug bust in California history.
He and other narcotics officers recovered $1 million in mushrooms and seized cash from an apartment near Beach Boulevard and Imperial Highway.
Of all the assignments Kanger has had in his 30-year career, he said the traffic division was his favorite.
It is where Kanger forged a friendship and founded a new enforcement unit with Benoit.
As a kid who loved dismantling things just to put them back together, Benoit said joining his family’s La Habra-based sanitation company as a mechanic seemed a natural path.
An interest in law enforcement prompted him to join La Habra’s reserve officer program in 1974.
Benoit maintained his job as a mechanic, and in 1992 was hired by the county to work on commercial vehicles.
While a reserve officer, Benoit served in the patrol, investigation and bike patrol divisions, but said he found his niche in commercial enforcement.
“It’s an area of a certain expertise,” Benoit said. “It really takes a passion for the job.”
Kanger and Benoit built the commercial enforcement program starting in 2008 after the department saw a need to enforce safety standards for the hundreds of trucks driving the city’s main thoroughfares: Imperial Highway, Beach Boulevard and Harbor Boulevard.
The pair outfitted their specialized rig with handcrafted cabinets and custom interior to hold such gear as scales, safety helmets and a creeper to help them roll underneath the trucks during inspections.
“This is our baby, we put it together,” Kanger said.
The two patrolled for any visible offense that would give probable cause to pull over a truck driver.
Inspections often turned out a slew of violations from faulty brakes to excessively heavy loads.
In one case, Kanger found a chipper truck, used for cutting trees, carrying unexpected cargo.
“I pulled it over because of a weight violation and when I was doing my inspection, I noticed the leaves moving,” he said, chuckling as he recalled the story. “I looked under the leaves and there were five guys lying there.
“I also issued five citations for the passengers not wearing their seat belts.”
More often than not, Kanger and Benoit saw common offenses such as worn-out brakes, drivers using non-authorized truck routes and vehicles that exceeded length and weight limits.
Any of these issues can be a safety hazard for other motorists.
“It’s like a bomb driving down the road,” Kanger said. “If those brakes aren’t working correctly, something is going to stop that truck whether it’s a light pole, a brick wall or another motorist.”
Kanger added La Habra has not had any major traffic incidents involving large commercial vehicles since they formed the unit.
“We’re very proud of that record,” he said. “I think we did a good job.”
Tigner, their supervisor, added the duo built a reputation for La Habra in the truck driving community as a city that does not go easy on violators, but is always willing to assist in educating drivers in commercial vehicle safety.
Kanger and Benoit have offered to go to companies to speak to fleet managers and drivers to help educate them, without writing tickets, before they get on the road.
This is a reputation the department plans to uphold with the program’s successor, Officer Jason Coleman.
“They did the job the way it was supposed to be done,” Tigner said. “The baton is being passed, but these guys ran a heck of a lap. They undoubtedly made the streets of La Habra safer during their long tenures here. We owe them a ‘thank you and job well done.’”