Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler’s “from the front” leadership the past nine years inspired a police force and helped build collaboration among East Valley safety departments, according to those who have worked with her.
As Kiyler prepared to retire in June after 40 years in law enforcement, she said her hope is she’s left a contribution to the community.
“I didn’t come here to make it a better place. I came here to hopefully make a contribution. When I came here there were things that had to get done. A lot had to do with the significant growth that had occurred and was still occurring,” she said.
The time is right, she said, as she marked her 40-year milestone in January, crime rates are down, the budget is done for the city and the new fiscal year is about to begin. Plus, since her husband retired a few years ago and they’re both in good health, they want to spend more time with their “amazing” children and grandchildren.
“You don’t know what life is going to be. It’s time to go and explore those things that we haven’t been able to because we’ve been working, and working a lot of hours,” she said.
Kiyler started in the 1970s as a “police woman” with the Phoenix Police Department. Then, the doors were just opening for women. She was issued a skirt with her uniform, along with a purse to carry her 2-inch revolver and handcuffs.
If she wanted pants, she had to get them on her own.
But Kiyler’s determination brought her promotions and advancement, even leading the department’s homicide unit.
Much has changed since then in terms of gender equity, she said.
“Forty years ago nobody expected to see women all the places we were. For years, even after we were involved in patrol activities, you would not have seen a woman SWAT team officer or patrol officer. That has all changed,” she said. “We have truly become integrated. You simply have to be qualified to do the job. You have to work hard.
There’s lots of competition for everything, but all jobs are now open to everyone.”
The other change has been in “tools and technology” to get the job done, she said.
“When I stared as a sworn officer in 1973, we didn’t have portable radios, computers in the car, bulletproof vests. Our information was only as good as what was told from one officer to another as they were going off shift,” she said. “Our training was good. The tools of our trade were there. But they were nothing like what they are today. The changes were phenomenal. We used to hang our radio mic outside of our car and hope we could get back for help.”
“What has not changed is the job we do. The burglary is still a burglary. A crime is still a crime. Police response is still police response.”
Assistant police chief David Neuman, who will take over as interim police chief on June 30, said Kiyler’s impact goes beyond Chandler.
“When she came, she really reached out to the other agencies and got us involved,” he said. “Part of our strategic plan, working partnerships and relationships, has allowed us to do more things. It’s worked very well for us.”
Kiyler pointed to the East Valley Gang and Criminal Information Fusion Center, which opened in 2007, as a place where police agencies can share information with each other, as well as with state and federal groups.
“When I started in this business, we were expected to do it all, have all the answers and do it in our own communities. We learned that we don’t always know what’s best. We have to partner with our community about what are the crime issues and the social issues we need to address. We’ve learned we all need the resources, but we don’t all need the same resources,” she said.
In terms of a rewarding career, Kiyler said nothing tops police work.
“Every day we get to get up and do something that makes a difference. One way or another, the people who work in this profession are going to make an impact every day,” she said. “People never call us when they’re having a good day. They’re calling us because it’s possibly the worst day of their lives. Maybe they’ve been burglarized or had their life threatened or children lost. The responsibility we have is from the moment that phone rings until it’s over. … That responsibility is huge, particularly for people on the street wearing the uniform. They are constantly being judged and represent an organization and profession.”
But the “rewards are huge,” she said. “We get to save lives. We get to catch bad people.”
When Kiyler talks to young people about a future in the field, she’s quick to inform them that their actions today can impact opportunities available tomorrow.
“You can do things as a teenager or in you early 20s that will disqualify you from not only this profession, but many others. I think sometimes our young people don’t consider consequences. What you do today, truly, truly impacts what you do tomorrow,” she said.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story was first published in the June 26 edition of the Tribune, and was republished Aug. 31 as part of the Tribune's East Valley "Women in Business" special edition.
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