South and central San Luis Obispo County has a new top lawman tasked with keeping local highways and county roads safe from impaired and unsafe drivers.
Capt. Mike Bueno, 46, took command of the San Luis Obispo CHP office Jan. 2.
He succeeds former Cdmr. Matt Olson, who retired Dec. 20.
Bueno, who grew up in San Luis Obispo County, will return to the San Luis Obispo CHP office where he began his career 20 years ago.
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“I not only have a professional investment in the safety of county roads, but a personal one,” Bueno said, noting that his daughter is reaching driving age. “I grew up in this community, and my family drives these roads. I have that personal community investment.”
A native of San Gabriel, Bueno moved at a young age to the Five Cities area. He grew up attending the Lucia Mar Unified School District and is an Arroyo Grande High School graduate.
After serving five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Bueno said he found his calling through a CHP advertisement in the local newspaper, he said.
He began as a patrol officer at the San Luis Obispo office in 1999. In 2006, he was promoted to sergeant and transferred to the Monterey, and later Buellton, areas.
Bueno was promoted to lieutenant in 2011 and worked out of the Ventura and Santa Barbara area offices.
As the commander of one of the agency’s 103 regional offices, Bueno’s role is similar to that of a municipal police chief, overseeing administrative and employee issues, making budget requests to the Coastal Division chief, and being the local promoter of safe-driving initiatives.
When four new officers hired last year begin work in May, Bueno will oversee a staff of 31 patrol officers, four sergeants and one lieutenant, as well as 15 dispatchers, two dispatch
supervisors and several administrative clerks.
The office is one of two operated by the CHP in San Luis Obispo County and covers highways and unincorporated county roads from the Cuesta Grade south to the county line.
The San Luis Obispo office also plays a pivotal role for the agency and emergency telecommunications across the county. Home to the county’s CHP Communications Center, the office operates dispatch services for the CHP’s Templeton, Buellton and Santa Maria offices. All emergency 911 calls from cellphones countywide are also routed through the office.
As commander of the San Luis Obispo office, Bueno also sits on the San Luis Obispo County Criminal Justice Administrators Association, a committee of all local police chiefs, the Templeton CHP office commander, the sheriff, the district attorney, the probation chief, the court CEO and a representative from the county Public Defender’s Office.
Having grown up locally, Bueno said he is familiar with not only Highway 101 but also with the lesser-known back roads.
“I grew up driving these roads. I remember driving around in my Chrysler Cordoba at 17, probably too fast,” Bueno said. “I understand that temptation, and that’s one reason it’s so important that people recognize the dangers.”
Over the course of his career, Bueno has run the gamut of experiences, including delivering babies on the side of the road and freeing an injured driver from a wreck.
“I’ve been there when people have taken their first breath,” Bueno said. “Unfortunately, I’ve also been there when someone’s taken their last.”
It’s an important job, Bueno said, and he plans to promote the agency as a quality employer as it continues to rebuild its ranks since the state broke out of the economic recession.
Bueno said he would especially like to see more diversity, specifically women, who he said are underrepresented in the agency.
Moving forward, Bueno said he will look to continue the leadership set by former Cmdr. Olson, as well as educate the community — especially young drivers — on safe driving practices through speaking to teens at schools and promoting the CHP’s Start Smart Program.
That program is available to all new and future licensed drivers between the ages of 15 and 19.
He added that his officers will continue to hold drivers accountable by being at the forefront of traffic investigations and drug and alcohol impairment recognition.
“We’re out there. We’re going to do our jobs, and there will be no slips,” Bueno said.