When it comes to Nicole Salazar’s driving force, she is quick to point to one thing: Her steadfast faith.
After all, it was faith that established the deep roots that ran throughout her family, faith that provided the foundation for her education and faith that pointed her in the direction of her life’s calling, setting her on her eventual career path.
“There was a youth group minister who was a motivator for me,” Salazar said. “One day, we were having a youth group session after Mass where we would go around and share one talent or skill we had. People were sharing things like music and dancing.”
Salazar, however, didn’t believe she possessed a gift that she could contribute.
“When they got to me, I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t have one,’” she said. “Everyone was sharing these cool things, but I didn’t feel like I had a gift. The youth minister said to me, ‘How can you not see it? Your gift is helping people. You are always the first to lend a hand, the first to step up.’”
From that moment on, Salazar’s path was clear.
A Chicago native who came of age with a Catholic school upbringing, Salazar decided the best place for her to put her gift to good use was through criminal justice. She opted to pursue those studies — as well as continue her faith-based education — at Loras College in Dubuque.
“I sought out a Catholic institution,” she said. “I was interested in continuing in an education with Catholic values.”
The college’s Center for Inclusion and Advocacy also became a place of comfort for her, where she later got involved in programming and discussions, welcoming other newcomers to campus and educating students on various topics.
After briefly returning to Chicago upon graduating from Loras in 2014, Salazar accepted a position with the Dubuque Police Department. Now 28, she has served as an officer for more than five years, acting as a crisis and hostage negotiator, as well as working with the department’s peer support team, domestic crime unit and training new officers.
While challenged in her role, Salazar said being a woman has never been a factor that has held her back.
“There are a lot of challenges,” she said. “As a crisis negotiator, you never know what you are getting yourself into, and there is always a concern for your safety and the safety of the community. But there is a lot of support within the department. It’s a great environment to work in. It’s very family and community oriented, and that was a huge factor that played into where I decided to go. I feel like I’m not just a number but a name.”
Salazar also recently joined the bicycle unit within the department’s Community Policing Division, geared toward allowing law enforcement and residents to work closely together to address crime and improve the quality of life in the community.
It’s a new role she is particularly enthusiastic about — especially during today’s challenging times.
“It’s important for law enforcement to build community relationships and to find ways to reach out in the community to remove barriers,” Salazar said. “I believe in our community, and I believe in our department philosophy. In and out of uniform, you have to be building relationships, one baby step at a time.”
In addition to faith, law enforcement and helping to bridge community gaps, she also is passionate about her familiar roots. Her mother is from Mexico, and her father is from Guatemala. Salazar also studied Spanish at Loras, even studying abroad in Spain for a time.
She has a brother who is an engineer and a sister who is a nurse working in an oncology unit. Both reside in St. Louis. All are the first generation of their family born in the United States.
“We didn’t speak a lot of Spanish growing up,” Salazar said. “I wanted to learn.”
It’s a skill she has put to use with the Dubuque Police Department as well.
“I’m not proficient,” Salazar said. “But it’s an area I can offer assistance.”
Out of uniform, Salazar has embraced Dubuque as a home, recently purchasing a house she shares with a 10-month-old pup.
A frequent volunteer within the community, she has been involved in Inclusive Dubuque’s “I’m A Dubuquer” campaign, the Women’s Giving Circle through the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and Project Rooted, in partnership with Convivium Urban Farmstead. She also serves as a role model to students at Loras through her involvement with the college’s Women’s Leadership Alliance, as well as providing feedback to the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion alumni council.
“I love volunteering,” Salazar said.
Additionally, she enjoys trying out new culinary delights to immerse herself in her parents’ and grandparents’ cultures, dancing to Latin music, baking and working out in her spare time.
She practices martial arts and is well-versed in Krav Maga, a military type self-defense that combines aikido, boxing, wrestling, judo and karate.
Of being named a Woman to Watch, she said she was surprised and honored.
“I don’t do the things I do for any kind of attention but to make a difference,” Salazar said. “It’s amazing to know when your hard work is being recognized. I’m only beginning. There will be more to come. Whatever it takes to continue building relationships in the community and making an impact.”
Megan Gloss is the features editor of the Telegraph Herald.