COLUMBIA CITY — Rae Carpenter grew up to be just like her father.

The Columbia City police officer has always been around police work, as her father, Tim Carpenter, was a town marshal and is now an Indiana State police trooper.

“I grew up in the back of a squad car,” Carpenter said. “At night, before bed, I watched my dad lace up his boots before working third shift.”

Carpenter grew up in Kosciusko County. As a child, she thought she wanted to go to law school and become a prosecutor. After working as an intern for the Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office, her view shifted.

“I quickly realized that the criminal justice system wasn’t anything like the television portrayed,” Carpenter said. “Trials are few and far between. Many cases fall into plea deals. I felt that as an officer, I could make more of a difference in a community.”

Carpenter has taken a special focus on forensically interviewing children ages 2-17. She’s completed hours of training, and will also attend out-of-state training, funded by the prosecutor’s office.

She is specifically working with a program called “Child First training.”

“Child First training is specifically geared for children who have been abused,” Carpenter said. “The number one principal taught is that the child comes first.”

The training has helped her understand how to talk to children and how they store memories. She’s also learned not to be suggestive when questioning a child.

As the first full-time female officer in Whitley County in several years, Carpenter said there are advantages to being a female on the force.

“In some cases, I can identify well with a female victim, as I am a female,” Carpenter said.

Additionally, if photo evidence on a female needs to be collected, she is the preferred officer.

Carpenter may not be the tallest or strongest officer, but she doesn’t see that as a disadvantage.

“I’ve had remarks made to me by the general public about my size, and that it may be a disadvantage,” Carpenter said. “In my eyes, it’s all what you make it. I am able to fit into places that my shift partners cannot.”

In her 2.5 years as an officer, Carpenter said she’s had many mentors along the way. Including her father, she’s also influenced by her best friend, a retired Indiana State Police officer, Jody Hill, and her husband Chad, who is a deputy at the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department.

“I often seek advice from both of them in regards to what direction to take my career,” Carpenter said.

She also said her sergeant, Scott Leatherman, Chief Tony Hively and Hively’s wife, Jodie are mentors.

“My sergeant is a plethora of knowledge and always expects my best work. He leads by example by having great worth ethic,” Carpenter said. “The Hivelys are excellent mentors, especially in the area of child interviews. They’re always willing to share their knowledge and push me toward my goals of being an excellent and knowledgeable interviewer.”

Though Carpenter’s mother, Christy, hasn’t had a career in law enforcement, Carpenter says the life skills her mom taught her have helped her to be a better officer.

“She’s always taught me to be compassionate and respectful to anyone I come into contact with,” Carpenter said. “She also taught me to have good work ethic and put my best foot forward in all that I do.

“I’ve had several mentors, I’ve been blessed with so many wise people along the path of my career.”

Carpenter didn’t grow up in Columbia City, but said she chose the area because it seemed like a small, tight-knit community.

“My assumption was right,” Carpenter said. “I’ve had several instances where people have paid for my meal when I’ve been on duty. And people were more than generous with the Patrolling for Presents program for the past few years.”

Since she was hired, several senior officers have retired, meaning there have been seven new officers hired. Though she doesn’t have many years on the police force, her fresh perspective has been helpful to the newer officers.

“I get to mentor those who have been hired after me,” Carpenter said. “Since it has only been a few years, I know how I learned, and what worked well for retaining information. The best way to learn the job is to do it.”

Helping one another is not uncommon among those in the Columbia City Police Department.

“My work family is just that — family,” Carpenter said. “My co-worker’s wives and families are always willing to feed you and greet you with a warm hug. I’m confident in the decision to start a career in Columbia City was the right one.”