Candace Kanavel, a Tempe police officer and Miss Arizona USA 2023, grew up in San Jose, California as the youngest of four, with two older sisters and a brother. Her family was very involved in sports and her parents always encouraged them to pursue their passions. At 18, she moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State University (ASU). Here’s what happened next.
You have a story about the day you decided to both become a police officer and a beauty pageant contestant …
Yes! This is one of my favorite stories to tell. My mom has worked in education for many years and is now the assistant superintendent for one of the larger school districts in Northern California. I have always been very close with my mom, and one of my favorite things to do with her was attend her work events. When I was 16, one she brought me along for was called Shop with a Cop, which is where underprivileged students from local schools are paired up with local police officers and get to go on a sponsored shopping trip to purchase gifts for themselves and their families for Christmas. They then get to take all their gifts back to a host venue where they wrap them and enjoy breakfast.
While I was at the event preparing to start the wrapping portion, a beautiful young woman walked into the room. She was wearing a crown and a sash, and she absolutely captivated the room! I looked at my mom and told her, “I want to do THAT.”
My mom laughed and we carried on with the event. But later that day I was still thinking about the girl with the sash and crown, so I brought it up to my mom and told her I was going to get myself a crown. She again laughed and explained pageants to the best of her knowledge.
Unbeknownst to her or anyone else in my family and true to my determined nature, I went online and signed up for a pageant that night. A few weeks later, I was Miss Teen San Jose, and I was on my way to compete at the state pageant! I’ve been competing in pageants ever since.
What a story! Switching gears … when did you know you wanted to be a police officer?
I always knew I wanted to do something hands-on and impactful in the community. At first, I had the large ambition of being the first female president of the United States. When I got to ASU and began my political science major courses, I realized that politics was nothing like I thought it would be. So, in an effort to find another interest, I took a basic criminal justice course. My professor was a former Phoenix police officer.
I met with him for office hours and told him I might be interested in working for the FBI, but he suggested I also consider local law enforcement. Shortly thereafter, he sent me an email with a job posting for a body-worn camera redaction specialist position within the Tempe Police Department. I applied, interviewed, and ended up getting offered the job in 2016. I stayed with Tempe Police as a civilian employee throughout the remainder of college.
Once I got to see firsthand the work that police officers do and the impact they can have, I was sold! I applied to be a police officer in the spring of 2019 and started the academy that June.
What does your job entail?
Since becoming an officer, I have been assigned to the patrol division. My everyday duties include (but are certainly not limited to) conducting routine patrols of my assigned beat, responding to both emergency and non-emergency calls for service, and investigating incidents ranging from civil situations to serious violent crimes. When I’m not on patrol, I also hold an ancillary role as a hostage negotiator for our SWAT team.
Can you walk us through your path to becoming Miss Arizona USA?
I competed for the title of Miss Arizona USA for seven years. It was quite the journey. My very first time competing was shortly after I arrived in Arizona for college. The Miss USA organization, which is a national organization that oversees all of the state pageants like Miss Arizona USA, is one of the most well-known ones that exists. Prior to moving to Arizona, most of the pageants I competed in were smaller local pageants, but competing at Miss Arizona USA was a whole new level.
Throughout my time competing, my placement varied. I went unplaced, then placed third runner-up, then had several more non-finalist and semi-finalist placements before placing first runner-up in 2022 and then finally achieving the title in 2023. Although the times I lost were difficult, looking back, I am so grateful for the times I didn’t win. I had so many years to prepare for the role of Miss Arizona USA, so when I finally won, I was able to hit the ground running.
What part of being Miss Arizona USA makes you most proud?
I am proud to be the first police officer to hold the title and the first police officer to compete in Miss USA! That is a huge win for Arizona, law enforcement, and women in male-dominated fields. When I meet people at events and appearances or even on the job who tell me they have been encouraged to pursue their own dreams after hearing my story, it is indescribable. That's what this title is all about—inspiring the next generation and leaving the ladder down for them to reach their own success!
What do you hope to accomplish as Miss Arizona USA?
Prior to winning the title, I promised myself that if I won, I would make it my "yes" year. I set a plan to say yes to every possible opportunity to participate, interact, and impact. This is what I want to accomplish, and I am proud to say that I have so far. I made this commitment to myself and to my community because I have worked tirelessly to achieve this position and I did not want my influence to go to waste.
I've always believed in the saying, "People won't remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel." I hope that in seeing my story or interacting with me, people will feel seen and heard and believe that they, too, can accomplish their dreams.
You attended ASU … what made you choose the school?
I did! Go Devils! To be honest, ASU wasn't initially on my radar. My sister, who is 18 months apart from me in age, attended ASU on a soccer scholarship. I went to visit her in the spring of my senior year in high school, and while she was in class, I decided to walk around the campus. While walking around, I fell in love with the environment, the campus, and the overall energy of the students around me.
Favorite places in Tempe?
Tempe Town Lake is one of my favorite places! I love running and it is one of my favorite paths to run.
Any motto you live by?
Our dreams are not mutually exclusive. You can be anything and everything you want to be!
One thing we’d be surprised to know about you?
Most people don't know that I am Japanese-American, I have taken six years of American Sign Language, and I was a competitive acrobatic gymnast for five years!
Any advice for others going after their dreams?
I have two things. The first: Don't give up. I often think about where I would be had I given up after the first, second, third, or even sixth "no" that I received on my journey to becoming Miss Arizona USA. I think about the people who I competed with along the way who stopped pursuing that dream while I kept going. Even if I hadn't won on my final try, the lessons learned, and skills gained from seeing the journey through are invaluable—and it's all because I didn't give up.
The second: Remember your "why." It is so important to know your purpose and lean on that when all else fails. My why is what has kept me from quitting when faced with tough days, difficult people, and seemingly impossible situations. Find your why, hold onto it, and let it fuel you to pursue your dreams relentlessly!
To follow Kanavel’s journey, find her on Instagram: @candacekanavel.
That's what this title is all about—inspiring the next generation and leaving the ladder down for them to reach their own success!
While I was at the event ... a beautiful young woman walked into the room. She was wearing a crown and a sash, and she absolutely captivated the room! I looked at my mom and told her, 'I want to do THAT.'