Chandler Police Chief Sherry Kiyler will end her nearly four-decade career in law enforcement at the end of this month.
Kiyler will retire as chief after nine years at the helm of the east valley police department. Prior to taking over the top spot in Chandler, Kiyler worked for the Phoenix Police Department for more than 30 years.
"I am very healthy, my husband is very healthy, there's a lot of things we'd like to do and now is a good time to start doing it," Kiyler said.
Over the years, Kiyler has respectfully declined numerous requests for one-on-one interviews about her career and high-profile cases she has been involved in. But as her career is coming to a close, she agreed to open up to CBS 5 News.
As a rookie officer in the 1970s, Kiyler is a pioneer for women in law enforcement in Arizona. She has vivid memories of the challenges she and other women faced at the time.
"When I started the academy we wore skirts and we had 2-inch revolvers instead of 4-inch revolvers. I can remember going on calls and the public telling me to go away, they'd wait for a 'real' police officer. I can remember a citizen one night on a prowler call who told me, 'never mind' he'd take care of it himself because he couldn't let a girl do it. I can remember male officers that didn't want to ride with a female. And that's neither good nor bad. It's simply … it was a huge change for the law enforcement culture," said Kiyler.
The purse issued to Kiyler when she joined the force had a built in holster for her 2-inch revolver and a place for handcuffs. Kiyler jokes, "It was heavy and very impractical."
If success was to come for a woman in law enforcement back then, Kiyler said the opportunity at the time was with Phoenix police.
"They gave me a fair chance and whether people thought I belonged there or not or thought women belonged there, they did in my estimation give us a fair opportunity," she said.
Promotions came at the right time for Kiyler. First as a sergeant, then lieutenant and then commander.
"It was a different time, but it made me stronger. I worked with some great people who judged me based on what I did rather than my gender," said Kiyler.
For nine years, as a lieutenant with Phoenix, Kiyler headed up the prestigious homicide unit. As a commander she ran her own precinct on the city's north central side.
For Kiyler, leaving Phoenix police was incredibly hard.
"It was my home for almost 33 years, but I know I needed another challenge," Kiyler said. "When I was commander in Phoenix, I knew I wanted one more challenge. And I remember vividly driving through Chandler when they were recruiting for a chief and thinking, 'what a great community, I think I'd like to work there.'"
Chandler hired Kiyler as chief in 2004. The department and city was still haunted by the public perception of being racist.
In the late 1990s, Chandler police, along with federal agents embarked on an undocumented immigration roundup, that the courts and the Arizona Attorney General ruled violated the civil rights of dozens of people including U.S. citizens.
"Was there turmoil here? Absolutely. I don't think I had a goal to fix things. I didn't come here (Chandler) intending to fix anything. I came here intending to hopefully make a contribution to the organization," Kiyler said.
That she did. Kiyler boasts that crime is down 10 percent in Chandler from last year and 40 percent in the past 10 years. Under her leadership, the department has expanded exponentially. She has also been instrumental in forming a coalition of cooperation between the police departments of the east valley.
"It's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to be here. It's a great city and it is truly a great agency," Kiyler said.
When asked what her greatest accomplishment has been over the last 40 years, Kiyler without hesitation spouts, "My greatest accomplishment is my husband and my kids. Without a doubt."
Kiyler's biggest regret of her career was losing police officer Carlos Ledesma on her watch. Ledesma was killed working a reverse undercover operation that went terribly wrong.
"It is not a regret that we did the undercover operation, but I would think that every police chief hopes to complete their career without ever having to stand in a church and speak about a deceased police officer," said Kiyler.
She continued, "It was an incredibly difficult time for this organization, not only did we lose an officer, we had two other injured and it was in an undercover operation and so that brings with it all the questions and certainly legitimate concerns."
Kiyler believes her leadership style has served her well. She declares that a good leader recognizes that leadership is not about the leader, but about the people.
"Different people need different things from leaders. I can't do just what feels good to me. I have to do what works for the organization," said Kiyler.
Her passion, dedication and commitment beamed through her face as she reflected on where she has been and how far she has come.
"I never expected to be where I am today," said Kiyler. "I truly, truly love this profession and I have such an incredible amount of respect for those who do it."
Kiyler said it is going to be very difficult to walk out the door on her last day.
"I am not only leaving this agency, I am leaving - not being a police chief - because that's just a title. I am leaving the profession of being a law enforcement officer," she said.
Kiyler contends one of the most important jobs of a chief is who they hire. And that is where she hopes her legacy lies.
"I've hired close to 200 people since I've been here and the legacy I hope to leave behind is that I hire good people ... people who have a passion for service, people who will spend their entire time in this career doing the right thing for the right reasons and will accept responsibility of their positions," Kiyler said.
Kiyler said she leaves Chandler police knowing that it's a great agency and knowing she has done what she could to contribute to it.
"If I had this profession to do over again and if I were making a conscious decision 40 years ago, I would make the very same one. It has treated me well and I've had the opportunity to make a difference for 40 years. I retire with a great amount of financial security for my family and I'm leaving here healthy. It doesn't get any better than that," Kiyler said.
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