TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Getting recognized by those you serve is one of the best awards one could get.
"I've never looked at it as a woman in law enforcement. I've always been a law enforcement leader that happens to be a woman," Oro Valley Police Chief Kara Riley says.
It's been a little over a year since Riley became the police chief at the Oro Valley Police Department, but her career in law enforcement spans over three decades.
"I grew up in the Middle East. So, it's a very different childhood that I had. Then coming back to the United States and learning to see all the opportunities that we have here in America," Riley said.
Ironically, her opportunity began when she was back in Tucson and got a speeding ticket.
"I ended up somewhat interrogating him on the side of the road asking those questions about law enforcement and what those expectations were, what exactly they did," Riley said.
And she had just one more question for the officer that pulled her over.
"Then I asked if women could be in law enforcement. When he said yes, I got done with that ticket and I went to traffic school. And just decided from that moment, that was going to be my journey," Riley said.
From a run-in with the law to police chief, she's been working to make a difference and her community is taking notice.
"So, to be able to have my community say they believed that I was the Best of the Northwest is so humbling and I could not thank them enough," Riley said.
Her first year as chief brought on some of the biggest challenges of Riley's career.
"Whether it was the Bighorn Fire that was upon us. We came so close to losing structures in our community and the evacuations that were going on. All of that while were in a middle of a worldwide pandemic," said Riley.
She took on those tough moments and wants to take on the tough conversations that are happening across the country about the negative image of police.
"One of my goals is to be able tell our story better and we're doing that through social media and you'll see that or with our community policing philosophy," Riley said.
Her approach to the job is why the recognition as best of the northwest this year is no surprise to one of her sergeants.
"We both worked at the Tucson Airport Authority Police Department. It was one of my first jobs," said Sergeant Joe Sanchez, who has known Riley for more than 25 years.
Once she left for the Oro Valley Police Department, Riley kept encouraging him to make the move.
"Saying 'Hey, come to Oro Valley or come to law enforcement.' I don't believe I would be where I'm at now if it wasn't for her encouragement," Sgt. Sanchez said.
Her encouragement Sanchez says is inspirational to not just her officers but the folks she meets throughout Oro Valley.
"She was a single mom. She started at the entry level and she worked her way up. She's incredibly strong and competent," said Lisa Bayless.
Bayless says she met Chief Riley several years ago and says she has always seen Riley's compassion shine through.
"She saw this very very elderly woman struggling to get out of her car. She just walks over helps the woman out helps her to the entry that's just the type of person she is," Bayless said.
That's just who she is, her collegeaues and friends tell us.
"It's not me. I promise it's the men and women of this agency," said Riley.
Humble and confident.
"I've told my daughter this. I have a 19-year-old baby who is 7 inches taller than me but I think I still take her. But you can do anything you want," Riley said.
For any little girls watching, she wants to make sure they never forget that.
"My message to little girls would be you can do anything you want. Just put your mind to it. anything is possible."