As a Black woman heads to the White House to serve as vice president, another Bay Area native is claiming her own historic first — closer to home.
Amanda Ray was sworn in as Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) by Gov. Gavin Newsom on November 17. The CHP is the largest state law enforcement agency in the nation. Commissioner Ray is the first woman and first African American woman to be selected for the job in the agency’s 91-year existence and just the second Black person. The momentous appointment is not lost on the 30-year veteran of the department.
“I’m always aware of who I am personally and professionally,” she told The Sacramento OBSERVER.
“It’s an honor to be the first of anything. You get a chance to set the tone and you get a chance, whether you want to call it that or not, to be a role model, because people are going to look up to you. And the fact that that’s me, yes, I’m extremely honored and humbled and just very fortunate to be in this role,” Commissioner Ray continued.
Ms. Ray began her career with the CHP in 1990. She has served as incident commander during several high-profile events, including the Department’s response to COVID-19, civil unrest, and wildfires. She was the CHP’s Special Response Team Tactical Commander for Super Bowl 50 in 2016. She became Deputy Commissioner in February. She will now oversee the agency, which is responsible for law enforcement services on all state property, and providing security for the governor and other state officials. She’ll also be in charge of the administrative functions of the Department, including a $2.8 billion budget, departmental training, information technology, and personnel administration.
A “call to service” has fueled her three decades on the job and kept her at it, rising through the ranks from cadet to Officer, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Assistant Chief, Chief, Assistant Commissioner and now the top spot.
“There’s so much more to do,” she said. “I could have, after 30 years, walked away, but I think that the special skill sets that I possess will serve the department well during these times. I have a heart of service and I still feel like I have a lot more to give.”
With such dedication and longevity, one would think that Commissioner Ray played cops and robbers as a little girl or that she’s honoring a long-honored family tradition of being in uniform. Neither is the case. She’s the first member of her family to go into law enforcement and she originally envisioned a totally different path for herself.
“I actually wanted to be a dentist, but I found I didn’t have the stomach for anatomy as well as I thought I did,” she shared.
“My career goal started to change and I came on to the CHP to earn money for grad school and I was going to decide what I was going to do then; and 30 years later I’m still here. I found that this was actually what I was looking for,” she continued.
Her body of knowledge and her background, she says, are now advantages.
“I worked in four different divisions throughout the state, so I understand operations down in Southern California, Northern California. I grew up in the Bay Area, so I understand the inner cities. I’m African American. I’m the youngest of eight kids. I have a huge family and I have a huge village that helped to raise me. I think those are some of the things that make me unique and able to have some conversation and a knowledge base that many don’t have,” she said.
Prior to the new appointment, Commissioner Ray spent a lot of time trying to recruit a diverse and dedicated pool of potential CHP employees and increase the department’s visibility. Law enforcement of all types has been under a microscope recently, something that Commissioner Ray says she’ll continue to be conscious of.
“We try to improve that trust with the public through self-examination, engagement with local communities and trying to increase our transparency and accountability statewide,” she said.
“I think when we do that, that’s going to help with those conversations and basically with that level of trust moving forward. Clearly we want to interact with the public as much as we possibly can.”
Negative incidents have also made law enforcement a “hard sell” as a profession. Commissioner Ray remains optimistic.
“It’s such a noble profession and our department is an outstanding department. Whether you want to wear a uniform or not wear a uniform, I think we have wonderful opportunities. We try to sell all of those opportunities, not just the law enforcement side of them.
“It’s an opportunity for us to go out there and try to interact more with the public and increase our footprint across the state because the more people know about us, then we may be able to bring more people to law enforcement that way. I don’t want to look at it from the challenge side of it. I like to look at the opportunity side of it. I’ve got to see the glass as half-full, not half-empty.”
The new role, Commissioner Ray is the pinnacle of a long career that has been full of highlights and milestones.
“To be able to hold this spot and work with the 11,000 women and men in this department that’s as good as it gets,” she said. “That and being SRT Commander, being a field commander. I have 30 years worth of things that have really made me happy throughout this career, but I would say that this moment is it.”
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer