Adrian Ruiz took a winding path into the security field, but once she found her passion for public service, she never strayed.
“I had a young person’s dream of being in the FBI,” Ruiz says, “but I ended up going to the University of Arizona and graduating with a degree in graphic design.”
It wasn’t until her mother encouraged her to explore law enforcement that she seriously considered becoming a police officer.
“My mother was watching the news one night and saw the then-Chief Garrett in a commercial where they were hiring and recruiting for Phoenix Police Department. She said, ‘You should apply. You’d be a great cop,’” Ruiz remembers.
Over the next two decades, Ruiz built a career in the Phoenix Police Department, rising through the ranks from Patrol Officer to Lieutenant and serving in the Honor Guard.
“After 23 years, I love my career, and I thank my mom all the time for pushing me to apply,” she says.
A law enforcement leader
Ruiz worked across five precincts as a Patrol Officer before transitioning to a Field Training Officer position.
“That was very controversial at the time — there were not a lot of officers who wanted to be field training officers. We had the nickname of ‘babies training babies,'" she says.
However, Ruiz’s interest in training led to further advancement opportunities in the department, next as Sergeant, holding roles in the field, the Phoenix Police Department’s Training Academy and the Pre-Post Academy. From there, she earned the rank of Lieutenant, where she started out in the Courts Division.
“That was a very eye-opening experience for me because I had never explored that heavily invested, behind-the-scenes look into police work, and I learned all about the judicial process and court services,” she says.
Ruiz then held positions in the Chief’s office and the Patrol Division before transferring to the Transit Enforcement Unit (TEU), an assignment she says greatly shaped her career. Ruiz served as Lieutenant in the TEU during a critical time in the city’s transit development, serving as a security liaison as the Phoenix metropolitan area’s light rail system was designed and built. She helped develop security policies for the light rail system, which opened in 2008, while overseeing and honing bus security in the area.
“I was really intrigued by the advancement of public transportation in the region. I loved being part of something that was brand new and starting from the ground up,” says Ruiz.
Ruiz chased her passion for public transportation after she retired from the Phoenix Police Department in 2014. After leaving the department as a Lieutenant in the Violent Crimes Bureau, where she gained investigative experience on the Assaults and Gun Enforcement Squad, Ruiz transitioned from law enforcement to her current role: Director, Safety, Security and Quality Assurance at Valley Metro, the transit system serving the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Tackling transit with a new perspective
At Valley Metro, Ruiz oversees the Safety, Security and Quality Assurance Division, which is comprised of three respective departments. Between managing a security contractor and balancing safety and quality assurance measures with the needs of the organization, Ruiz says she’s grateful for both her experience as a police officer developing security policies for the transit system and for the organizational buy-in to safety and security across Valley Metro today.
“Valley Metro is in the business of operating and maintaining the system for its lifecycle, so we have a vested interest in making sure it’s safe, and that we also listen to our community members about making sure it’s secure for them as well,” says Ruiz.
It didn’t take long for Ruiz to rise to the new challenge of public transit security — within her first year on the job, the city of Phoenix hosted Super Bowl XLIX, necessitating robust and secure public transit as hundreds of thousands of fans visited the city.
“I had to dive right into the event planning along with a litany of corrective actions the agency was carrying as a part of a triennial audit with the state. Valley Metro was carrying quite a list of open items that needed to be addressed, and with the Super Bowl at the same time, we really had to prioritize what we were going to look at,” Ruiz says.
That compliance mindset fueled technology updates across the transit system, which, in turn, increased the operational preparedness and safety of Valley Metro in the long term. In February 2023, Phoenix hosted its fourth Super Bowl and second during Ruiz’s tenure at Valley Metro. She says the challenges posed by Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 and Super Bowl LVII in 2023 “were like night and day.”
“This time around, we came off of four years of COVID-19 — we have a different workforce. That’s the difference between this Super Bowl and the last one in 2015,” she says. “We had a high percentage of frontline security officer vacancies months before the 2023 Super Bowl. Our board listened and we were able to get a raise for security personnel to come to the contract.”
Moving forward with innovation
As a transit security leader, Ruiz and her team use technology, compliance and training to force-multiply their reach when it comes to safety and security. In a sector facing staffing shortages across security and operations, Ruiz says building relationships is key to running a safe operation.
“Relationships are really what it boils down to. And it’s not just relationships with myself and a manager, it’s relationships from all of leadership to the folks out in the field doing the work,” she says.
Strong relationships within the security team help the department withstand turbulence and move forward with a solid foundation to be able to innovate. Reflecting on her tenure across Valley Metro and the Phoenix Police Department, that emphasis on relationship-building and innovation stands out to Ruiz.
“That’s the biggest takeaway in the 23 years in law enforcement and the almost nine years here with Valley Metro. I’m not the same person I was 32 years ago — I think the biggest takeaway is with all of that experience combined that you can put on a resume, the one thing that’s not listed is that I have also matured in age, and either you age well to where you’re relevant, or you become irrelevant,” says Ruiz.
Staying relevant in her field and organization requires constant communication and innovation, says Ruiz — a challenging task, but one that her passion for transit and public service motivates her to accomplish.
“The value of transit is what I’m passionate about,” she says, “and that Phoenix itself is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. We need to prepare for that and make sure that we have a robust transit system. I feel honored to be part of such a wonderful team that I have here and part of a wonderful agency — that I get to actually be involved in how the city runs."