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Departments : A Closer Look

University of Central Florida Police Department

This campus police force takes pride in understanding the international student body it serves.

June 01, 2006  |  by Bryn Bailer

At the University of Central Florida, campus policing is local in nature, but international in flavor. The university prides itself on attracting a diverse student body. On any given day, its police officers may interact with engineering students from Russia, doctoral professors from India, or corporate executives from Japan studying to improve their English.

They may teach self-defense classes in Spanish, use American Sign Language to help deaf visitors navigate the campus, or teach the finer points of U.S. traffic law in classes specially designed for students from other nations.

"The university considers international involvement critical to our mission of providing a balanced education," says Stephen Nordlinger, who has worked for the University of Central Florida Police Department as a community service officer since 2004. "Three of its official goals include becoming more involved with the world's many cultures."

Toward that end, UCF actively recruits and welcomes foreign scholars and students, and supports them with a variety of services and programs. The International Services Center is an information clearinghouse for immigration and other government-related issues.

The Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning helps instructors adapt to American academic culture. The university is also home to the Center for Multicultural Multilingual Studies (CMMS), which offers intensive, advanced English instruction to students, business professionals, and academic scholars from around the world.

Thanks to that commitment, more than 150 different countries are represented at the University of Central Florida, says Nordlinger, who works with international students and faculty at CMMS as part of the police department's popular "Adopt a Cop" program.

"It would be hard to find a country whose students were not represented" at the center, he notes. "Each day you can find the halls crowded with students from Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Columbia, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam, Ukraine, Venezuela, China, Thailand, Peru, The Netherlands, Russia, and many more countries."

While such wide-ranging cultural diversity makes for a dynamic campus, it also poses challenges for law enforcement, says Sgt. Troy Williamson, a 22-year veteran of the University of Central Florida Police Department.

Some international students and faculty bring with them an innate hostility or fear of police. Others-particularly those from some Asian cultures, where saying "no" is considered very rude-can easily become victims of theft, sexual assault, or con games. More than a few international students have been shocked to learn (sometimes the hard way) that in the United States, domestic violence is a crime.

Still others exhibit an apparent disdain for social-conduct rules familiar to Americans, such as parking restrictions. Officers not attuned to cultural differences might interpret offenders' nonchalance as deliberately elitist behavior, deserving an immediate authoritarian response.

"I noticed many newly arrived Arabic-speaking students with tickets on their cars for parking in teacher spots," Nordlinger says. "In one case, after trying in English, I said in my childlike Arabic, 'Taliba Huna,' pointing to one row of parking spaces, then 'Ustez Huna,' pointing to another row. 'Students here, teachers here.'

"You could see the light go on in his head. ... He never parked there again, and stopped getting tickets."

Williamson says the UCF Police Department has itself taken extra steps to orient foreign students to American law, such as offering a twice-a-semester orientation course taught by Officer Jeannette Emert. The program has drawn up to 60 participants per session.

"It was interesting," Williamson says of one class. "They were trying to learn different safety measures for living in this country [that Americans take for granted]: traffic laws, criminal laws, stop signs, red lights, no left turns, one-way streets, that sort of thing."

Some foreign-born students and faculty members are clearly confused by the ethics and service-oriented demeanor of U.S. police, notes Nordlinger. A former Marine fluent in Spanish, American Sign Language, and Jamaican patois, he has lived in or traveled to Japan, Peru, the Philippines, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.

"You can see the fear on their faces when a uniform walks through the door," he says. "Many students from Islamic countries are used to beatings, or worse, from Mutawa'een [religious police]. Students from China often worry I'll report their topics of conversation back to the Chinese government. Kenyan students are used to paying police officers on the spot to forgive tickets.

"The last thing they expect you to do is sit down, dump out a pile of Arabic or Korean or Japanese dictionaries, and work things out."

While the UCFPD makes an attempt to reach out to international students, officers don't hesitate to hold them accountable for irresponsible, unsafe, or unlawful behavior, Williamson stresses.

"Students, regardless of who they are, if they commit a criminal offense, we still arrest them," he says. "And the 'Golden Rule' [rules of conduct for students, faculty, and staff] applies anywhere, at any time, whether you're on or off campus, because you're putting the reputation of the university at stake."

The University of Central Florida, located 13 miles east of downtown Orlando, is the nation's seventh-largest university. Its mild weather attracts students from around the world, as do nearby American cultural icons like Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios, and the Kennedy Space Center.

Learning about American law and order is just part of the integration experience, according to Nordlinger.

"Every time a new group of students comes in from China, Kenya, or Saudi Arabia, I see them lower their eyes, avoid conversation, whisper to their friends to be careful because a policeman is nearby," he says. "But after they meet me, they realize I'm not there to arrest them, demand a bribe, or monitor their political comments or social behaviors.

"My goal is to get to them before they are victims of crime, or they do something they shouldn't be doing."

Bryn Bailer, a former newspaper reporter, is a contributing editor for Police. By night, she is a member of the Tucson (Ariz.) Police Department Communications Division.

Tags: Campus Safety, Agency Profiles


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