LAS VEGAS (AP) - Anne Carpenter was ready to retire as the chief of Nevada Parole and Probation division after 25 years in the male-dominated state Department of Public Safety.
But the same week U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, George Togliatti, director of Nevada’s public safety force, asked Carpenter if she would replace retiring Nevada Highway Patrol Col. Daniel Solow.
There had never been a woman in the position. Carpenter took the weekend to think about it.
“I was happy where I was,” Carpenter, 51, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I knew I was going to retire, and that was fine.”
Then a friend sent her a text from that gave Carpenter chills: “RBG would want you to take the job.”
Carpenter accepted the promotion.
“This is the time to make a difference,” she told herself. After all, as Ginsburg said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
“Colonel Carpenter exemplifies leadership,” Togliatti said in a statement announcing Carpenter’s appointment in October. “Her depth of experience is invaluable as the department continues to unify the efforts of its divisions to provide the highest level of service and protection for all Nevadans.”
Born in Hawaii but raised in Reno, Carpenter’s law enforcement career began in 1995, after graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
To pay for graduate school, she landed part-time jobs with America West Airlines and the state Department of Motor Vehicles, where a state human resources employee encouraged her to apply to be a state parole officer.
“I truly think that it’s fate that I fell into law enforcement,” Carpenter said.
She obtained her master’s in public administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and recalled that it wasn’t until the first day of law enforcement academy that she realized that parole officers were peace officers with guns.
“I was scared out of my mind,” she said. “There were moments along the way that were difficult, but now, in retrospect, when I look back, I know I’m not the kind of person that will give up. I was going to prove that I could do it.”
After the academy, Carpenter spent six years as a parole and probation field training officer. She made sergeant in 2001, and in 2005 received a promotion that changed the trajectory of her life.
Carpenter, who had recently given birth to her daughter, made the jump to the Highway Patrol as a lieutenant, overseeing operations on the day shift, in rural areas and in risk management.
“There were very few women, and a lot of my peers at the time were older,” she said, recalling the time as “awesome and difficult and stressful,” and the learning curve steep.
“Whatever she would set her mind to, she would get it accomplished,” said Pat Gallagher, a longtime friend and former Highway Patrol major. “She doesn’t take no for an answer.”
With a 3-month-old girl at home, Carpenter still found time to ride-along with troopers. She learned the nuances of traffic stops and was struck by the “ripple effect” of crashes.
“I’m very passionate about traffic safety,” Carpenter told the Review-Journal. “The ripple effect that these substantial injury crashes and fatalities have on the community and our troopers gives me goosebumps, because it’s so intense. Families are losing moms, brothers, sisters, best friends. The troopers can’t unsee those things.”
In June 2012, she was promoted to captain and continued to work for the Highway Patrol until 2016, when she returned to Parole and Probation as deputy chief. She became division chief three years later, overseeing 330 sworn Parole and Probation officers and 264 other staff members.
On Oct. 19, Carpenter officially took command of the Highway Patrol and its nearly 600 employees, including 491 sworn officers. Just 38 are women.
Carpenter stepped into the role at a tumultuous time, facing budget cuts because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a racial reckoning sparked by high-profile deaths this year including George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and Breonna Taylor during a botched police raid on her Louisville apartment.
“What I’m nervous about is the perception of law enforcement,” Carpenter said. “But on the other side of the token, I think I can do a really great job in humanizing who we are and showing our community members that we are Nevadans. We are you. We’re your neighbors. We’re your friends. We’re your family.”
Gallagher, the former Highway Patrol major, has been retired from law enforcement for three years. He said that if anyone can rebuild a relationship with the community, Carpenter can.
“She’s always been progressive, always looking for things to improve,” Gallagher said. “She doesn’t take no for an answer. If you tell her, ‘Well, it’s always been done this way,’ she’ll just find a new way.”
Carpenter said she knows it will be a process. But as Ginsburg once said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
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