After a year like no other, we had the honor of virtually sitting down with CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray to learn more about the challenges that faced the Department this past year, and what lies ahead for one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies.
How long have you been with the CHP and what made you want to become a CHP officer, then work your way up the ranks to now the first female CHP Commissioner?
My story began in my hometown of Oakland, California. Growing up, my parents encouraged me to chart my own path and follow my dreams. At a young age, I inherited a heart of service from my mother, who was active in the church and our community. I grew up loving sports and was fortunate enough to play basketball at UC Berkeley while obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Truth be told, I thought my life would lead me to the dental profession. However, much like many of us in the Department, I was recruited by someone I knew who became a California Highway Patrol officer. After learning of the dedication and professionalism of our Department, it did not take me long to realize that my real calling in life was serving as a member of the CHP.
March 12, 2021, marks 31 years from the day I stepped onto the grounds of the CHP Academy. As a young officer, I was mentored by amazing individuals who taught me what it meant to wear this uniform with pride. I am truly thankful for the talented women and men who have preceded me. Throughout my career, I actively sought out opportunities that would promote personal development while improving my professional skillset and leadership abilities. Now that I have this amazing opportunity to be the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, I will support and stand beside the committed members of this great organization as we serve California’s communities.
How have your life and career experiences prepared you for your role as Commissioner?
In every opportunity and assignment, I have purposely fostered a team mentality. This relationship-centric approach started early in life. Whether it be growing up with my brothers, being a youth leader in my church, or being a captain in basketball and softball, I have always valued the importance of creating a strong team built on meaningful and trusting relationships. I have carried this philosophy into my role as the Commissioner. We all play an important role in meeting the mission of the Department; from the officer in the field to those in Executive Management. It is “Team CHP” that will ultimately make the CHP successful at saving lives and enhancing public safety.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned or experienced as Commissioner?
After 31 years on the Department and holding every rank, I have found that very little surprises me anymore. However, I have learned so much from the people I have served with throughout my career. Having the support of the women and men of Team CHP, as well as other traffic safety stakeholders, including the 11-99 Foundation, has been invaluable.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far as Commissioner?
We are experiencing a global pandemic that has disrupted our way of life in a way we never expected. Without a doubt, the biggest challenge I have experienced during my tenure as the Commissioner is maintaining a level of service to our communities, while ensuring the members of the Department are safe and healthy. Although we have implemented robust safety measures, we have learned that the pandemic has significantly impacted the efforts of all essential workers, including the CHP. Additionally, COVID-19 brought unique challenges to the CHP’s Academy. While it has always been our goal to increase the number of people who attend and graduate the Academy, we had to carefully weigh the safety of our new and current departmental members. However, I am happy to report that on February 15, 2021, we welcomed back 131 cadets to the Academy, and look forward to seeing them graduate in a few months.
What do you see as the Department’s biggest challenge in 2021?
In addition to reducing California’s mileage death rate, one of my major priorities for the CHP is to create an organization that is more representative of California’s communities. Most law enforcement agencies nationwide are experiencing retention and recruitment issues, and the CHP is not immune to this growing concern. This means our recruitment efforts need to be aimed at improving application numbers, diversity in applicants, and better prepare applicants for Academy life. This recruitment challenge is not just systemic for our uniformed classification but also includes our hard-to-fill non-uniformed positions. To meet this challenge, the CHP has reevaluated our recruitment goals and moved away from traditional advertising to utilizing social media, digital platforms, and programmatic marketing techniques to attract potential applicants from diverse backgrounds and demographics. I encourage every member of the Department and the 11-99 Foundation to identify and recruit qualified individuals through excellence, discipline, and a commitment to serving their community.
What do you view as the Department’s biggest success in 2020?
During a time of uncertainty due to the pandemic and social unrest, I have personally seen CHP officers and non-uniformed personnel across this state remain true to their oath and continue to care for each other and the community members we serve. I believe that is our biggest success in 2020; women and men who selflessly gave their all, even as they strived to maintain the health and safety of their loved ones. I saw a CHP officer in Central Los Angeles use sign language to assist a hearing-impaired member of his community applies for an Identification Card at the local DMV. I saw a CHP officer and cadet in the San Gorgonio Pass give CPR to a motorist who went into cardiac arrest on the side of the road. I saw CHP helicopter paramedics in Northern Division rescue a couple and their puppy after getting stuck in the freezing snow overnight. A CHP officer in Solano County saved the life of an unresponsive six-week-old infant who was not breathing because something was blocking the infant’s airway. An officer from Contra Costa was hailed a hero for pulling a man from a burning vehicle, moments before it became fully engulfed with flames. Whether teleworking or at the office, I have witnessed non-uniformed personnel across this state continue our administrative and fleet operations so that the Department maintained our service levels to the public. Three of our officers were awarded the California Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor for their extraordinary bravery, heroism, and courage in the face of imminent and life-threatening peril during gun battles that unfortunately claimed the lives of CHP Officer Andre Moye and Sacramento Police Department Officer Tara O’Sullivan. These are just a few examples of the heroic actions of CHP officers across the state in 2020. To me, our biggest success remains our unwavering dedication to the people of California.
How have the events of this past year affected the Department as a whole?
The one thing that really resonates with me is the resiliency of the talented people who make up this great organization. The events of this past year, as challenging as they were, have paved the way for our renewed commitment to serve the people of California and continue our role of being a trusted leader in law enforcement. I remain humbled and impressed at the perseverance, professionalism, and steadfast devotion Team CHP has demonstrated during the unprecedented challenges of the past year. We have emerged from 2020 as a premier law enforcement agency that holds firm to our values and serves California’s communities with compassion and understanding.
What advice would you give to someone who may be interested in pursuing a career as a uniformed or non-uniformed CHP employee?
If you have a heart of service and genuinely want to help the people in your community, then we encourage you to apply. The CHP is not your average job; it is an honorable profession built on integrity, dedication, and service. There is a reason the California Highway Patrol is regarded as one of the top law enforcement agencies in the nation. We set a very high standard and expect all of our employees to meet that standard. We take an oath to stand for something bigger than ourselves – to provide safety, service, and security to the citizens and visitors of our great state. It is this same integrity, courage, and honor of duty we seek from new recruits. Although the members of the CHP are diverse and hail from different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we all want to make a difference and are dedicated to public service. By joining the best of the best, you will have a chance to make a difference in the lives of Californians every day. A career with the CHP will give you more than you ever thought possible.
I would encourage anyone interested in a career to go online to www.chp.ca.gov or www.chpcareers.com and look at the various uniform and non-uniform career opportunities.
How can civilians continue to show their support to CHP employees on a day-to-day basis in their communities?
The support of the communities we serve is very important to us and something that we very much appreciate. Effective partnerships between the CHP and our communities are essential to public safety, and it is important that we all embrace public safety as a shared responsibility. I hope anyone who wants to support members of the CHP will work with us as we engage, build, and strengthen lasting partnerships to improve the health of California’s communities.
What brings you the greatest joy in life?
Without hesitation, my son, Kyle, is my greatest pride and joy. He is an amazing young man, and I am incredibly proud of the person he has become. He stands for what is right and cares for those around him. I will always be grateful for his love and support.
We thank Commissioner Ray and her staff for their time and thoughtfulness during our interview. To read this story and more, check out our 2020 Annual Report, published in March 2021.