History of the Florida Highway Patrol

FHP in the 2000s

In 2009 the Florida Highway Patrol unveiled its new statewide Honor Guard, consisting of thirty-seven members.

The first statewide Honor Guard training camp began on August, 20, 2009, at the Florida Highway Patrol Training Academy.

Visit our Honor Guard section to learn more about its leaders, members, functions and mission.

Christopher A. KnightColonel Christopher Allen Knight

Colonel Christopher Allen Knight, is a 20-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol. A graduate of Venice High School, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology from Florida State University in 1979. Colonel Knight is also a graduate of the 171st Session of the FBI National Academy, the 2nd Session of the North Carolina State University Administrative Officers Management Program, and the 20th Session of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chief Executive Seminar.

Colonel Knight was a member of the Florida Highway Patrol’s 61st Recruit Class. He was elected President of his recruit class, and graduated with High Academic Honors. After receiving his initial training at the FHP Academy, he began his career as a Trooper in Naples, and later served in Venice. Colonel Knight has progressed up through the ranks of the Patrol, and has been stationed in Miami, Bradenton, Palatka, and Tallahassee in various positions, including Commander of Troop H, Tallahassee, and Chief of Training at the FHP Academy.

Colonel Knight is a member of the State Law Enforcement Chiefs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

On June 29, 2001, Mr. Fred Dickinson, Executive Director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, announced that Colonel Knight was being appointed as Director of the Florida Highway Patrol effective July 2, 2001.

Live Traffic Crash and Road Condition Report on the Web

In July 2001, FHP introduced a new feature to its website to inform motorists about road conditions. The new web page displayed a map of Florida divided into counties and by FHP Troop. Once the site is accessed, the user click on the troop area and gets a display of all traffic events currently being investigated by the FHP in that region. The page automatically updates every five minutes and provides a real-time “snapshot” of the Florida Highway Patrol Computer-Aided Dispatch System that is used throughout the state.

First African American Lieutenant Colonel

Chief Larry L. Austin was promoted to Deputy Director of Field Operations on November 1, 2001. He was a 23-year veteran of the Patrol at the time of his promotion.

FHP Takes Delivery of 200 Camaros

The Florida Highway Patrol took delivery of 200 new Chevrolet Camaro patrol cars in 2002. In addition to the installation of the radio system and new low profile Whelen light bars, each trooper who was issued the high performance patrol car had to complete a five-hour familiarization class on the handling, braking and acceleration of the 310 horsepower vehicle.

The Chevrolet Camaro is powered by a 5.7L engine, which according to tests performed by Michigan State Police, pushes the Chevrolet Camaro to a top speed of 159 miles per hour. The Camaro is also able to achieve a speed of 100 miles per hour from a stopped position in only 13.93 seconds while the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor takes 24.61 seconds.

Mobile Data Terminals

In early 2003, every FHP trooper will have a Compaq laptop computer installed in his or her patrol car. These Mobile Data Terminals or MDT’s as they are called will soon be able to execute electronic citation issuance and transmittal, in addition to checking the status of a violator’s license and tag. Troopers are excited about the MDT’s because it took many years to bring this project into reality. Once again, FHP is a leader in this area and other state patrols are closely monitoring FHP’s progress.

Regional Communication Centers

The new Tampa and Jacksonville Regional Communications Centers will be completed by the end of June 2002. The Tallahassee Regional Communications Center will be completed mid July 2002. Modifications are being done in Orlando to the Communications Center to accommodate additional dispatch and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) positions for monitoring roadside cameras. The new Miami Communications Center is under constructions and will be completed some time in early 2003. It will be a joint FDOT – Regional Communications Center with 18 positions. Miami currently has nine.

FHP Receives Florida Accreditation

On Wednesday, May 22, 2002, the Florida Highway Patrol was awarded comparative compliance accreditation by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CFA). This accreditation builds upon the Patrol’s current national accreditation and is based upon issues specific to the State of Florida.

Achieving dual accredited status (CALEA and CFA) further demonstrates the Patrol’s commitment to excellence in all aspects of agency operations.

Troopers Rescue Victims, Investigate Amtrak Derailment

On Thursday, April 18, 2002, an Amtrak passenger train traveling from Sanford, Florida to Lorton, Virginia derailed south of Palatka, near the town of Crescent City. Within minutes of the mishap, troopers from Troop “G” were on the scene rescuing many of the approximately 166 injured passengers. Troopers Luis Rios and Larry McKenzie crawled inside derailed and overturned railroad cars to tend to the injured. Soon after the crash dozens of other troopers from troop “G” and nearby Volusia County were on the scene working with EMS, local law enforcement, and civilian volunteers. After several hours, all train passengers and crew were rescued and relocated to area hospitals and/or shelters. The FHP then began the complicated task of beginning an investigation into the deaths of 4 of the passengers, pending the arrival of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). With the assistance of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement, troopers secured the scene and began collecting evidence, identifying the over 450 passengers and crew, and making notification to next-of-kin. Upon the arrival of the NTSB, FHP personnel continued to assist the Federal agency with their complex investigation.

Personnel from all of troop “G” were used in the response to this significant event and personnel from the Deland and Gainesville districts of troops “D” and “B” assisted them. Overall both local law enforcement and the NTSB recognized the excellent response by the FHP.

FHP Launches Pasco Project

On Friday, April 5, 2002, Colonel Chris Knight hosted a news conference at the Land O’ Lakes FHP station to announce a pilot project in Pasco County that will assess the effectiveness of a nationally recognized law enforcement staffing formula the Patrol has used for many years. A total of 14 new troopers were introduced to Pasco County, which effectively increases the FHP strength to capacity at 37 troopers, according to the staffing formula. Shown standing with Colonel Knight at the news conference is Pasco County Sheriff Bob White and the 14 new troopers who reported for duty.

The goal of the Pasco Project is to:

  1. Reduce response times to traffic crashes and other calls for service
  2. Reduce fatalities
  3. Increase the percentage of time a trooper actually engages in proactive patrol
  4. Increase traffic enforcement efforts, including the arrest of motorists for driving under the influence
  5. Effectively staff selective enforcement details
  6. Increase coverage of patrol zones, and
  7. Effectively handle all traffic-related calls for service. The Patrol will track a number of activities in Pasco County for a full year to determine if the staffing formula is valid and specific goals are achieved. If the pilot project is successful, subsequent requests to the Florida Legislature for additional troopers in other counties throughout the state would then be justifiable.

Transition Recruit School

In order to expedite the filling of vacancies within the trooper ranks of the Patrol, a new 10-week transition recruit school began on March 4, 2002, for those applicants who possess Florida law enforcement certification. Colonel Chris Knight appointed twenty men and women for this history-making event. After graduation, each of the new troopers were returned to their “home” county to begin their new career. This eliminates the need for these individuals to go through the entire 26-week basic recruit program for all other applicants. The next transition academies will begin on January 6, 2003 and July 7, 2003. For additional information on career opportunities within the FHP, please visit BeATrooper.com

George A. Brown, III, In the Line of Duty
End of Watch: Tuesday, April 27, 2004

While overtaking a traffic violator on County Road 341 in Columbia County, approximately six miles south of Lake City, Sergeant Brown’s vehicle left the paved travel portion of the roadway onto the east shoulder, rotating counterclockwise and traveling into a wooded area adjacent to the shoulder, where it struck several trees. Sergeant Brown was pronounced dead at the scene. He had served the citizens of Florida for 33 years.

His career with FHP began July 6, 1970. He was in the 37th recruit class in Tallahassee, from July 6, 1970 to September 26, 1970. He was stationed in Lake City. At the time of his death, he was 55. He is survived by his 13-year old son, his parents and sister.

Darryl L. Haywood, In the Line of Duty
End of Watch: Saturday, October 2, 2004

Trooper Haywood died in the line of duty as a result of a traffic crash on Saturday, October 2, 2004, while attempting to overtake a speeding motorcycle on Interstate 4 in Volusia County. He had served the citizens of Florida for four years.

His career with the FHP began March 27, 2000, after retiring from the New York City Police Department after 20 years of service. He was a member of the 98th Recruit Class in Tallahassee, from March 27, 2000 to September 21, 2000. He was stationed in Volusia County. At the time of his death, he was 50. He is survived by his wife, two children, and one grandchild.

FHP Training AcademyTraining Academy Update

In December 2005, the members of the 111th Recruit Class helped move furniture and equipment from the academy building in Tallahassee to its new home at the Florida Public Safety Institute. They were the first class to graduate from the “new academy.”

The FHP Academy at the FPSI is a state-of-the-art facility that includes a mock courtroom, mock dispatch center, driving track, dedicated defensive tactics building and firing range. Academy staff continue to explore ways to use the facility to its fullest potential and to use the latest technology to deliver the best training possible to Florida’s future troopers.

Regardless of where the academy is located, the FHP tradition lives on. The FHP continues to play an integral role in shaping the troopers of today and building the leaders of tomorrow.

Fatigued Drivers – A Landmark Case

Officer David Lewis (FDOT Motor Compliance), Corporal Jimmy Starling and Corporal David Bazinet worked countless hours to prove that a truck driver’s fatigue and lack of sleep caused a 2006 fatal crash in Union County that killed seven children.

Nicholas G. Sottile, In the Line of Duty
End of Watch: Friday, January 12, 2007

Sergeant Sottile was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Highlands County. During the stop one of the two occupants of the vehicle produced a handgun and shot Sergeant Sottile in the chest. He had served the citizens of Florida for 24 years.

His career with the FHP began March 21, 1983. He was a member of the 68th Recruit Class in Tallahassee, from March 21, 1983 to June 10, 1983. He was stationed in Desoto County. At the time of his death, he was 48. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and two children, Nicholas and Heather. Sergeant Sottile’s son, Nicholas, is also a member of the Patrol and is assigned to Troop C – Tampa.

Electronic Citations

In April 2007, a system allowing FHP to send citation data electronically to the Clerk of Courts was implemented. At the end of the month, 23 counties were participating with others being added. The electronic reporting allowed information to come straight from the patrol car to the Clerk of Court, reducing the amount of time to get information to the clerks and reducing errors through built in edit rules.

Rapid ID

In July 2007, FHP partnered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) on a pilot project to test the Rapid ID Device, giving law enforcement a specialized tool to assist in the positive identification of individuals using a mobile fingerprint reader. The scanner can be worn on a trooper’s belt and uses wireless technology to communicate directly with the laptop in the patrol car. The information is then sent immediately to a system at FDLE.

Colonel John CzernisColonel John T. Czernis

On November 30, 2007, Electra Bustle, Executive Director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, announced that Colonel Czernis was being appointed as Director of the Florida Highway Patrol effective December 1, 2007.

Colonel John Czernis earned a bachelor’s degree in 1981 in criminal justice from Rollins College and a master’s degree in 2005 in public administration. Colonel Czernis is a 30 year veteran of the FHP, who began his career in law enforcement in 1974 with the Vero Beach Police Department before joining the Patrol in 1977.

Czernis served as a trooper in Monroe and Orange counties, a traffic homicide investigator in Orlando, and a first line supervisor in Miami-Dade and Orange counties. In 1994, after his promotion to Major, Czernis moved to Tallahassee and became the Grants, Accreditation and Policy Administrator for the Patrol. In November 1996, Czernis was promoted to Bureau Chief and served as the agency’s Chief Training Officer.

After two years, Czernis was reassigned to the Bureau of Investigations as Chief Investigator. In June 2003, he was promoted to Lt. Colonel and served as Deputy Director of Special Operations, including oversight of the FHP Training Academy and the Offices of Leadership and Education, Program Planning, Fleet and Property, Accreditation and Policy, Aviation, Employee Selection and Recruitment, Background Investigations, Polygraph, and Budget. Colonel Czernis’s vast and varied work experience in a multitude of Patrol positions combine with his strong education will serve the agency well.

Wall of Honor

On November 27, the Department unveiled a new memorial in the lobby of the Neil Kirkman Building. This memorial is dedicated to the 41 Florida Highway Patrol troopers killed in the line of duty from December 1941 to January 2007. The ceremony included the Presentation of Colors by members of the Troop H Color Guard and the Troop H Chaplain gave the invocation. The closing of the ceremony included the unveiling of the Wall of Honor and the posting of the passage “Their duty was to serve, our duty is to remember.” Local news stations WTXL (ABC) and WCTV (NBC) covered the event.

Joint Truck Safety Enforcement Detail

The Florida Highway Patrol partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation Motor Carrier Compliance Office (MCCO) on December 18-19, 2007, for a two-day operation to improve traffic safety on Florida highways through intensified traffic law enforcement targeted at commercial motor vehicles. MCCO officers concentrated their enforcement activities in the ten counties where the most fatal truck crashes occurred in 2006 and FHP troopers heightened enforcement efforts on interstates and other major state roads where commercial motor vehicle, speeding and aggressive driving violations are prevalent. 3,993 citations were issued, with FHP issuing 3,798 citations, of which 1,678 were for speed and 261 were for seat belt citations.

Law Enforcement Inquiry Disaster Recovery

The Department recently completed installation of technology to enable direct connectivity between the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the Department’s failover servers at the Shared Resource Center (SRC). This project eliminates technology costs while allowing the Department to maintain critical law enforcement systems during a catastrophic loss of our Department’s Kirkman Data Center.

Move Over Florida!

The first ever statewide Move Over Florida! enforcement operation kicked off on Monday, June 23, 2008, with a Press Conference at the Kirkman Building. Representatives from the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Police Chief’s Association, the Department of Transportation, the Attorney General’s Office, the State Law Enforcement Chief’s Association, AAA, the towing industry as well as local law enforcement joined FHP to kick off the week long operation, which ran June 23 to June 29. The campaign targeted Move Over law violators in an effort to promote safety for our emergency responders. Tina Lambert, mother of Broward Deputy Ryan Seguin who was killed by a motorist failing to obey the Move Over law, and Trooper John Baker, who has been struck three times while roadside were at the event to discuss the importance of the law. Numerous media outlets, including the AP, were present and offered “ride-alongs” with troopers to experience first-hand what our emergency responders face every day as they serve Florida’s motorists. The event was a tremendous success with all major metro papers running articles along with other daily papers and television news stations running stories throughout the state. Over 40 media outlets reported on the campaign.

Lt. Colonel Ernesto DuarteAnother First for FHP

On February 1, 2008, Ernesto Duarte was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Deputy Director of Law Enforcement Support Services. Lt. Col. Duarte made history in the Florida Highway Patrol as being the first Hispanic to serve in this capacity. He began his career with the Patrol in January 1989, attending the 82nd Recruit Class.

A New Domain

In February 2008, in a continuing effort to streamline and simplify our work, the Department changed its internet domain from “hsmv.state.fl.us” to “flhsmv.gov.”

FHP Introduces Operation EFFORT  

To help fill FHP’s ranks with the most qualified and professional applicants possible, we have implemented Operation EFFORT (Ensuring Florida’s Future with Opportunity and Recruitment of Troopers), a special operation that focuses on intensifying recruitment, selection, and appointment of qualified trooper applicants to allow for a faster and more effective hiring process.

Precision Immobilization Technique trainingRecruits Begin PIT Training

On July 13, 2009, the Florida Highway Patrol introduced Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) training to the new recruits. The fundamental principle is the intentional contact between a patrol unit and a fleeing vehicle in an attempt to force the vehicle to stop. The members of the 117th recruit class were the first to be trained using this procedure.

BDO training classFirst Class for Basic Duty Officer Training

On August 3, 2009, the agency kicked off the inaugural Basic Duty Officer Training Class, held at the Academy. This class provided the new communication members with the needed foundation and tools to be successful in their job.

Statewide Honor Guard

August, 20, 2009, The Florida Highway Patrol unveiled its new statewide Honor Guard, which consisted of thirty-seven members. The Honor Guard is divided into three regions – North, Central, and South. Members were recommended by their chain of command and selected by the Colonel.

The first statewide Honor Guard training camp began on August, 20, 2009, at the Florida Highway Patrol Training Academy. The training consisted of ceremonial drills that included facing movements, Manual of Arms for the rifle team, Presentation of Colors, flag folding, funeral and memorial service protocols with plenty of close order drills.