Colonel Assumpico Gets Her Chance
RWU Class of 1990 graduate breaks ground as Rhode Island’s first female State Police superintendent
SCITUATE, R.I. – Ann C. Assumpico grew up watching “Adam-12” on TV, and by age 10 she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up: a police officer.
So after excelling as an All-State field hockey and basketball player at West Warwick High School, she did what athletic boys in her school had done: She applied to police departments in the area.
“But I just never seemed to get anywhere,” she said. “Some of them were very rude. They would laugh at you and say things like – I was 18 at the time – ‘Little girl, get out of here, we’re not going to hire you,’ or they’d curse.”
Assumpico refused to let it deter her. “You never forget it. But it drives you,” she said. “You just think that the right things will happen and you will get your chance, because this is America.”
On Nov. 3, Governor Gina M. Raimondo, the state’s first female governor, gave Assumpico the chance to become the first female head of the Rhode Island State Police. And in an interview at her office headquarters in Scituate, Colonel Assumpico recalled the role that Roger Williams University played in preparing her to be superintendent of the State Police.
In 1990, Assumpico graduated from RWU with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. “A lot of the police officers were going at the time, and a lot of the instructors were former police officers,” she said. “So it was really a good school to go to because it was very practical. I really learned a lot. I liked Roger Williams.”
How did her RWU education help her? “It opened doors for me,” she said. “When I applied to the State Police, I had a wonderful résumé, and I think the instructors were excellent.”
Assumpico, whose father worked as an aircraft mechanic at Quonset Point, was the first member of her family to go to college. “I never thought that I would have a college degree,” she said.
But she turned out to be a good student. “Roger Williams gave me the confidence,” she said. “I learned a lot as a young person in the profession. I just think it professionalizes police officers.”
What would she tell those who are studying criminal justice at RWU today? “First, I’d say they are at an excellent school,” Assumpico said. “The education they get will open doors for them. But they have to understand this career will be demanding, and they have to be realistic about it.”
After high school, Assumpico faced the harsh reality that she wouldn’t be able to get a police job right away. But she did land a job with the state Department of Corrections. And during 8½ years there, she gained valuable experience, discovered good mentors and worked on the tactical team, breaking up skirmishes.
Always an athlete, Assumpico found strength, discipline and success in martial arts. “It gave me an even playing field,” she said. “It makes you very strong, as a female.” And today, she is a fifth-degree black belt who has won 10 World Police and Fire Games gold medal and 20 World Champion Karate titles.
But she even ran into harsh realities while running. “If you went jogging in your neighborhood, someone would drive by with a car and say ‘What are you doing?’ ” she recalled. “Women weren’t really doing that a lot, so sometimes they’d throw things at you, sometimes they’d laugh.”
Assumpico, 60, didn’t have children. “You know, back then it was tough,” she said, because sometimes prospective employers would ask “you’re not getting married or anything, right, Ann?” She said, “So, what you do is you marry the career.”
She eventually landed a job with the Coventry Police Department and worked there for seven years, serving on the SWAT team. And she said her RWU education helped her get a job with the State Police in 1992. “You want to be well-rounded and you want to compete with everybody when you go for these jobs,” she said. “The State Police is very competitive.”
She worked in the State Police Patrol Bureau for 15 years, and she served as the firearms instructor for many troopers, including her three predecessors as State Police superintendent: Steven Paré, Brendan Doherty and Steven O’Donnell. So, who’s the best shot? “I would say I’m the best shot,” Assumpico replied.
In 2015, she was promoted to captain, and most recently she served as the director of training for the State Police Training Academy.
At an event in October, a reporter asked Governor Raimondo if she’d ever had an experience where she thought "That would not happen if I were a man." She replied. "Oh, every day."
When asked the same question, Assumpico said, “Oh, yeah.” For instance, she said, “If you are the senior officer working somewhere – and you have the most experience, you are a top martial artist, a defensive tactics instructor, you teach people how to defend themselves – and you go to a call on a warrant and you are dealing with another police agency and they walk right by you to the biggest rookie who doesn’t know anything yet and he’s learning from you.”
Assumpico, who gave her height as 5-foot-2-and-1/2 inches, said, “It’s hard to make people change the way they think.” But progress is being made, she said. “There are so many talented women out there. They are in the ranks, and they are starting to come up.”
And now they have Assumpico to look up to. “This is amazing,” she said. “If you would have told me 25 years ago that ‘Oh, you could – or you will be – the colonel of the State Police,’ I would have said ‘Really?’ I would have laughed.”
In her new position, Assumpico faces a real challenge in trying to increase diversity in the State Police. Out of 228 troopers, 21 are women and 30 are people of color. “We can do better,” she said. “And we will.” She talked about strategies for recruiting and mentoring, training and community outreach.
“We have to do this,” Assumpico said. “We have to get the diversity. You need all types of men and women to work on the Rhode Island State Police and local police agencies. This is what we need. This is what makes it right. It works better that way.”
Skeptics say having a female State Police superintendent won’t make a difference, at least in the short term. But Assumpico said, “I disagree with that.” She has already made several promotions, which added two African-American officers to the command staff.
And she said she recently spoke at the Women in Leadership Conference, sponsored by the New England State Police Agencies. “These women are so enthused, they are out there, and it does make a difference,” she said. “If you have walked that path, you just understand a little bit more – because you have been there.”
Assumpico said that if she could remake “Adam-12” today, she’d call it “Modern Police Work” and the show would include men and women who look like members of the community they police. She said that when she was younger, people would tell her, “Oh, you want to be like ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ ” And she’d tell them, “No – I just want to be a police officer.”