Childhood Experiences Led to Bex Riehm’s U of I Journey to Become a Cop
Bex Riehm plays a wealth of musical instruments.
The clarinet, saxophone, snare drums and trumpet are just a few that she can pick up with a sheet of music and play along.
Between jam sessions, Riehm paints pictures, crochets and writes poetry. On many Thursday nights she challenges her friends at board games.
And Riehm wants to be a cop. She has accepted a job as a criminologist at the Portland Police Department.
A nontraditional University of Idaho student, Riehm will graduate in Spring 2023 with degrees in criminology and psychology. The juxtaposition of artistic hobbies combined with the pragmatism of law enforcement is not so unusual, Riehm insists, considering where she’s from.
Riehm grew up in a scruffy suburb of San Diego, her dad, a former inner city gang member, died before she was a year old, and her mother was an alcoholic who raised her two children in a tumultuous environment of partying and police visits.
“It wasn’t on the best street in town,” Riehm said. “The police knew our family by name.”
Her knowledge of local law enforcement — the officers who responded to the calls from neighbors reporting domestic violence, fighting and heavy partying in her building — led to her attachment to police shows on TV. Forensic Files, Law & Order, Cold Case Files and Investigative Discovery were Riehm’s outlets along with art, music and writing.
After a stint in foster care as a youngster, something clicked, she said. She realized the trials of her young life were preparing her for a career path.
“I want to combine policing with psychology, because I want to be there to uphold the law, but I also want to understand why people do what they do,” she said. “I want to show empathy, especially when it comes to children and young people who are caught in circumstances they didn’t cause. It’s a nice mix of fact and feeling.”
Riehm found her way from San Diego to Idaho through a friend’s little brother who was enrolled at the Lionel Hampton School of Music. She considers herself an introvert, but the welcoming U of I atmosphere prompted her to take on new roles. She is part of a table game club on campus where, she says, “introverts unite, but separately.”
Riehm led a Black voices panel as a member of the Black Student Union, she is a member of the university’s marching band, plays clarinet in the band at basketball games and recently joined ASUI as a senator.
“Being older than the average student, and a transfer student was a little intimidating,” Riehm said. “I had not considered ever attending a four-year college, but then I met so many wonderful leaders on campus, and through the clubs, who showed me that I could be a leader just like them.”
The Criminology Club has helped her connect with local law enforcement — including an interview with the Portland police, which the club invited to Moscow to meet with criminology students — and the community. She has spent time on ride-alongs with officers of the Moscow police and she is a graduate of the Citizen Police Academy.
I want to show empathy, especially for people who are caught in circumstances they didn’t cause.Bex Riehm, Undergraduate, Criminology
“Bex did a great job of representing the university and routinely asked insightful and challenging questions,” De Angelis said. “I think her participation pushed the academy class to think about important issues in policing in a deeper way.”
Her empathy and desire to lift others shows in her community engagement, said Officer Tyson Berrett of the Moscow PD, who met Riehm through the Citizen Academy.
“Bex is a very kind and outgoing person,” Berrett said. “I sat next to her in the U of I parent panels on Vandal Fridays. As she described her life in Moscow, and on campus, to the parents of prospective students, she beamed with pride.”
In the summer Riehm works for campus security escorting students across campus and being an extra pair of eyes and ears for local law enforcement. The experiences are included on her college highlight roll, she said.
“Every time I thought about doing something else, I was not fulfilled,” she said. “I really want to help people. For the first time in my life, I feel excited about where my life and career are going.”