WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBS13) – The California Highway Patrol is looking for more women to join its ranks. CBS13 followed one female cadet through her final days in the academy, as the only woman to graduate in her class.
It’s the biggest day in Marissa Raya’s life: graduation day at the CHP academy in West Sacramento. She and her class stand in formation one last time. But to truly appreciate her moment in the sun, we need to take you back to the dark and grueling road she traveled to get here.
“Down, up!” Her instructor shouts as she and her class do push-ups on their knuckles in a pre-dawn workout session. The class yells their reply, “One!” The paramilitary training has become routine for the cadets over the last few months.
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Raya, 26, has pushed her mind and body to the max to become the only female to graduate in her CHP class.
“It’s not easy. It’s not easy at all,” said Raya.
Fourteen of her fellow female cadets and 50 more male cadets dropped out one by one over the past six months.
“You know their birthday and their stories and learn about their families. It’s really hard. It’s really hard when they leave,” said Raya.
Yes, Raya is a survivor in what’s been one wild ride. The twists and turns of her six-month-long journey have been the highlight of a renewed push by the CHP to find more women like Raya.
Out of 7,459 uniformed personnel, just 551 are women. That’s just over seven percent of the department.
“If I could change just one, just one woman’s mind about coming here and doing it, I hope I do that,” said Raya.
“We want to be as diverse as possible in our department relative to the communities we serve,” said Sgt. Norman Vandermeyde.
Sgt. Vandermeyde’s is a recruiter. He thinks the tough part about filling the female ranks is beating back stereotypes.
“People sometimes think that a woman cannot do this job. That is emphatically not true. They can do it just as well — sometimes even better than the man,” said Sgt. Vandermeyde.
No need to tell that to female CHP hopefuls CBS13 caught up with at a recent recruitment session. The informational meetings are their first step on their journey to break barriers.
“I know I can do this job, and it’s more than just a physical thing, it’s a mental thing,” said Chelsea Haley.
She hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps. He’s a retired CHP officer.
“I just want to help people,” said Haley.
Chrissy Pfanner has a more colorful reason for wanting a badge, “Officers kick ass, so…,” she said laughing.
Laughter aside, Pfanner is focused on what more female officers can do for the department’s image.
“You might think of CHP a little bit differently if you see a lot more women out there,” said Pfanner.