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Alum defies stereotypes as a Tempe police officer, Miss Arizona USA

In uniform, Candace Kanavel says she’s unrecognized as a pageant winner, but both positions involve reaching out to people


Portrait of ASU alum Candace Kanavel in uniform as a Tempe police officer.

Candace Kanavel ('18 BS), a Tempe police officer, is the 2023 Miss Arizona USA. Photo courtesy Casting Crowns Productions/Michael Solberg Photography

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August 17, 2023

Some girls dream of wearing a pageant winner’s crown. Some want to be police officers.

Candace Kanavel decided to pursue both — coming to that conclusion on the same day.

“I love telling this story,” said Kanavel, a sworn Tempe police officer for four years who was crowned Miss Arizona USA in June.

“My mom works in education and invited me to participate with her school district in an event called ‘Shop with a Cop,’” said Kanavel, who earned her Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice in May 2018 from Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. “It is a community event that partners police officers with underprivileged kids in the local school district to shop for presents for their families during the holiday season.”

Kanavel, then a teenager growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, was struck by the sight of officers with the children at the event. A local pageant titleholder, wearing her crown and sash, was also in attendance.

“I love how she captivated the room. I told my mom later that day that I wanted to have a crown and sash of my own. She explained to me that I would have to compete in a pageant, and I told her that I was going to do it,” Kanavel said. “We laughed about it, as no one thought I was serious. Little did she know, I filled out an application for a local pageant that night. Fast forward a few months, and I was the new Miss Teen San Jose.”

Since becoming Miss Arizona USA, Kanavel has been experiencing what she calls her “yes” year.

“I try to do as much as I can. It can become a lot, but I love being out in the community,” she said. ”It’s a great opportunity to be involved and showcase what you’re passionate about.”

For Kanavel, this means helping organizations that support sexual assault and domestic violence victims, and advising “little girls dreaming about careers they might never expect for themselves.”

Kanavel typically isn’t recognized as a pageant winner while she’s wearing her police uniform. Sometimes people who meet her as Miss Arizona USA inquire about the national pageant, which will be held this fall. She said they are often unaware that while the Miss USA pageant takes about a week, she has an entire year to serve here in Arizona.

“While I’m training hard for (the national title), I want to be a great representative for Arizona, and to show up for Arizona,” Kanavel said.

Candace Kanavel, Miss Arizona USA, Tempe, police officer, 2023, criminal justice

Tempe Police Officer Candace Kanavel, a 2018 ASU alum, was crowned 2023 Miss Arizona USA in June. Photo courtesy Casting Crowns Productions/Michael Solberg Photography

Learn more about Kanavel’s ASU journey, her career with the Tempe Police Department and her time as Miss Arizona USA below.

 

Editor's note: Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Tell us a little about yourself and your early years. Where are you from? 

Answer: I was born and raised in San Jose, California, where I lived with my dad, mom and three siblings. I am the youngest of my siblings and have a great relationship with all of them. As a child in a very athletic family, I played just about every sport: T-ball, basketball, cheerleading, swimming, volleyball, soccer, even acrobatic gymnastics.

Something most people don’t know about me is that I am a third-generation Japanese-American. I am so fortunate to have grown up learning about my heritage and embracing traditions passed on throughout my family. 

Q: What’s a typical day like as a Tempe police officer?

A: Currently I am assigned to the patrol division. I work four, 10-hour shifts a week. I don’t know that there really is a “typical” day in my line of work. When I show up to work, I load my patrol vehicle and then head to the briefing room, where my sergeant will brief us on recent incidents, training material and day-to-day housekeeping topics. Following the briefing, I hit the road, where I respond to various calls for service. They range from civil situations all the way to serious violent crimes. You really never know what the day is going to have in store for you, so it is important to be prepared for anything. 

As of now, I have not been recognized as Miss Arizona USA on duty; but my coworkers have been asked about me by people that they have encountered on calls, and even other law enforcement officers from states across the country. It is truly surreal. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My sister, Whitney, was on the ASU women’s soccer team. She and I are best friends, and I remember coming to visit her and watch her games. I was still in high school when she started at ASU, and I had honestly never even considered it as an option for me. When I came to visit her during my senior year of high school, she took me on a tour of the campus and I fell in love. It just felt right. I loved how vibrant the campus felt and the thought of going to such a big school in a beautiful (and warm) state, excited me. I went home and submitted my application that same day.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: One of the most valuable lessons I learned at ASU was just how much opportunity is out there. I think it’s easy to slip into the boxes that society sets out for us based on who people think we should be, and what they think we should be doing — but ASU taught me to look beyond that. It opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist for me and taught me to discover who I am and what I am passionate about.

Q: If you had college to experience all over again, what would you do differently? The same?

A: I don’t know that I would change anything. My journey in college was unique to me; and although it wasn’t perfect, I learned so much from the experiences and trials that I overcame. It led me to where I am today — happy, successful, making a difference and living a life beyond what I could have imagined for myself. 

Candace Kanavel, Miss Arizona USA, Tempe, police officer, 2023, criminal justice

Candace Kanavel, a Tempe police officer and 2018 ASU alum, reacts to being chosen as Miss Arizona USA 2023 at a pageant in June. Photo courtesy Casting Crowns Productions/Michael Solberg Photography

Q: Over the decades, pageant winners have moved beyond turning in their crowns only for marriage and homemaking. Then why are people still fascinated, sometimes surprised, to learn pageant winners often have careers like yours?

 

A: Stereotypes stick. It’s hard to break tradition and stereotypes. It’s a part of why people are surprised. It’s gowns and makeup, but people don’t understand what it means to be a titleholder beyond the pageant itself. Beyond the glam and glitz of it, you have to be an established person in the community; you have to be goal-oriented.

Cops are tough and gritty, and pageants are glamor and dressing up. But the two jobs have more in common than you might think. Some days I’m doing the exact same thing, but I have a different outfit on.

It’s easy for us as human beings to put people in boxes and limit them to just one thing. You can be all the things you want to be, but you don’t have to be limited. I try to show little girls, and women in general, that if there’s something you’re doing and something you want to do, you can go after both and not be stuck in that box.

Pageant winners are doctors, dentists, scientists and preparing astronauts to go into space. It is incredible to be part of a group of women doing so many things.

Q: If you could clone yourself, what career would you pursue?

A: I am a very hands-on person and love being out in the community — hence my choice to pursue law enforcement. But if I had an opportunity to venture into another career field, I think I would be a teacher. Having a long line of female educators in my family, I always said I was going to be a teacher. I loved school and loved helping out my teachers when I was coming up in school. I believe it is one of the most valuable and impactful professions. 

Q: What is in your Netflix queue, or what movies/shows have you been recently hooked on?

A: Some of my favorite shows are “Emily in Paris” (Paris is one of my favorite places!), “Dateline” and “American Idol.”

Q: What is your life motto in one sentence?

A: Our dreams are not mutually exclusive; you can be anything and everything you want to be.   

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

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