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Rookie CHP Officer Is Following in Sister’s Steps

Times Staff Writer

Wendy Sambera, a California Highway Patrol officer stationed in the Newhall area, got a call from her younger sister Janet last month, as Janet was waiting to graduate from CHP training school in Northern California.

“She said, ‘Guess who’s coming to Newhall?’ ” said Wendy. “I said ‘Oh no! ‘ “

If anyone ever invents a law-enforcement trivia game, the Samberas have just become an answer, or at least an asterisk. As of 10 days ago, the two North Hollywood High School graduates became the first pair of sisters to work in the same CHP station and possibly the first pair in the history of the highway patrol.

Apparently by coincidence, both women now work the afternoon shift at the CHP’s Santa Clarita Valley substation. Wendy, 28, has been at it for 2 1/2 years now, since transferring from a station in south Los Angeles. Janet, 21, recently began a training period, which is scheduled to evolve into a permanent assignment at the substation.

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In a profession heavily dominated by men--at the last official count there were 284 women and 4,403 men in the CHP--the Samberas are worthy of a double take, or at least an introduction.

And that’s what happened Tuesday, when the two were introduced at a makeshift press conference at the Santa Clarita substation on Chiquella Lane in Newhall. While a CHP press relations officer scanned his records for precedent, Janet and Wendy Sambera met the press for a fast half-hour of questions.

The questions, of course, were of the how-does-it-feel-to-be-first sort, though the two officers are not sure that it’s all that big a deal. No, Janet said, she doesn’t see any trouble in working with her sister. And no, Wendy said, she doesn’t worry about problems faced by women officers. Yes, Wendy feels protective, and no, her sister doesn’t like it.

If anything, in fact, the two sisters seem determined to prove that their business won’t be affected by the fact that they are stationed together. Janet professed to be far more worried about passing her 40-day probation period than about getting along with Wendy, whom she described as “OK, as far as big sisters go.” And, although Wendy acknowledged that she sometimes worries about her “baby sister,” she certainly isn’t going to do her any favors.

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“I try to stay out of it as much as possible,” said Wendy, who has not yet ridden with her sister and who will not be allowed to train or supervise Janet.

If pressed, however, both acknowledge pleasure at the circumstances. Although Janet asserted that her assignment was something of a fluke--"This was my third choice,” she said, after the South Los Angeles and West Valley divisions--she said Wendy inspired her to follow the calling in the first place. Wendy, meanwhile, noted that she was “extremely proud” when the Highway Patrol flew her to Sacramento to pin the badge on her sister when Janet graduated from training school.

And, although both women acknowledged that their fellow officers sometimes razz them, they said most of the ribbing has to do with their relatively short stature, not their sex.

“I’m 5-4 and Wendy’s 5-4,” said Janet. “So yes, we hear a lot about our height.”

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