AZUSA — Former Azusa police Captain Karen Pihlak, who was the first fully-trained female police officer in the Azusa Police Department, died Monday after a long battle with cancer, authorities said. She was 55.
Pihlak spent 25 years with the Azusa Police Department, officials said in a written statement. Her final assignment was as Operations Division Commander, where she supervised all uniformed personnel in the department, as well as the detective, traffic and special enforcement bureaus.
“She’s just in amazing inspiration to all of us around here,” said Azusa police Lt. Steve Hunt, who worked with Pihlak for about 15 years. “Not only in her professional life, but in her personal life as well.”
He described her battle with breast cancer as “courageous.”
“She was just a wonderful woman to work with,” Hunt added. “She’ll be missed by all here.”
Pihlak is survived by her husband, her daughter and two brothers, Azusa Police Chief Robert Garcia said.
Family members could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and Garcia said they preferred to have media inquiries directed to the police department.
“I respected her when she worked at the Azusa Police Department and admired her strength in her battle with cancer,” said Garcia, who worked with Pihlak for 22 years.
“I am devastated by her passing,” he added.
While Azusa police had one female police officer, Pinky Hunter, in their ranks before Pihlak, Pihlak was the first fully-trained female officer, Garcia said.
He described Pihlak as an intelligent and resourceful police officer who worked hard to achieve the rank of captain.
“I had a high degree of respect for her,” Garcia said.
“She was a hard-working person,” Garcia said. “Even after she was diagnosed, she plugged away and showed a resolve that is rare.”
While not on duty, Pihlak was active in both the Azusa community where she worked and the Glendora community where she lived, officials said.
In Azusa, she was instrumental in putting in a swiming pool at Slauson Park, city officials said, where a plaque thanking her still stands.
She was honored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2001 for her efforts to help organize the Azusa Human Relations Commission to address a spike in hate crimes in the area, Garcia said.
Following her retirement from the police force in 2004 Pihlak remained active with the local school district and local libraries, Garcia added.
“That’s the kind of person Karen was,” he said.
She was also active in community organizations, such as the League of Women Voters.
Azusa Mayor Joe Rocha said he was grateful for Pihlak’s contributions to his city and that she will be missed.
“Azusa would not be Azusa without Karen Pihlak and the contributions she made to our city,” he added.
Pihlak’s favorite past times included spending time with her family, reading and traveling, colleagues said. She was proud she was able to make trips to Antarctica and the Arctic Circle in 2005.
As per Pihlak’s wishes, there will be no funeral, officials said. A Celebration of Life ceremony will be held in private.
In lieu of flowers, family members ask that tax-deductible donations be made to the City of Hope, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte, Calif., 91010.
PHOTO of Karen Pihlak courtest of the Azusa Police Department.