Homicide detectives, FBI and U.S. Secret Service agents, a Winter Garden Police crime scene technician, an Orlando Police SWAT commander, Orange County deputy sheriffs, the Lake Mary police chief and the deputy director of the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA).
What do all these and about 1,000 other Central Florida men and women law enforcement officers have in common? They are all UCF Knights.
Rich Daniels, for example, graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He spent some time with the Altamonte Police Department and UCF Police before dedicating 27 years to the Drug Enforcement Administration. In 2013, Daniels accepted the position of deputy director of the Central Florida HIDTA.
Others are more recent grads, such as Lake Mary Police Chief Steve Bracknell, who earned a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2004.
“My experience at UCF was outstanding,” Bracknell said. “Not only did UCF prepare me for the challenges as an agency administrator, it provided me with invaluable resources within Central Florida. I am very, very proud to announce to all that I am a Knight.”
While some have pursued leadership positions, others, such as Orlando Police detective Jennifer Williamson, have stayed close to the grittier parts of police work that Hollywood tends to glamorize. She is part of Orlando’s fugitive investigative unit, the U.S. Marshall’s Office and OPD’s crisis-negotiation team. She graduated from UCF in 2002 and has spent 16 years in Central Florida keeping her community safe.
“Almost all of the people we are tasked with apprehending are alleged to have committed violent crimes,” Williamson said. “We search for and apprehend those who commit murder, robbery and sex crimes. This assignment has been the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. I am happy to bring some type of closure to families who are victimized by the evil of society.”
Sixteen officers in the Winter Park Police Department are UCF alumni, said Ross Wolf, an associate professor of Criminal Justice at UCF who was an Orange County deputy. Today he continues to teach courses in criminal justice, conducts research for places such as the National Institute of Justice, and serves as the College of Health and Public Affairs associate dean for academic affairs and technology. He is also a reserve officer with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
More than 11,000 students have earned a bachelor or master’s degree in criminal justice at UCF. UCF Police Chief Richard Beary is among those with a master’s degree. About 1,500 others are pursuing a degree today, and starting in the fall 2015 doctoral degree will be available.
“We have an outstanding, nationally recognized program here that provides conceptual and hands-on instruction that challenges thinking,” Wolf said. “One of the highlights of my teaching career has been to develop a study-abroad program to the United Kingdom where students visit the criminology and police science programs at the University of Gloucestershire and the University of Chester, and work with police from New Scotland Yard, Gloucestershire, Cheshire, and the British Transport Police. Programs like this allow our students and our faculty to be well-connected and approach problems from a new perspective.”
“I think that my graduate school education really challenged me to think critically,” Williamson said. “UCF taught me to be open-minded and to really apply research to reality. I have a T-shirt that says, “Think as if there is no box.” I believe that saying appropriately describes what the UCF masters program allows its students to do.”
For Daniels, whose dad was an FBI agent and whose son works for the U.S. Secret Service, UCF is a special place. He, too, has worked in other countries during his years with the DEA.
“I am grateful to the university for the quality of education I received, therefore enabling me to pursue a successful law enforcement career both on the domestic and international level.” he said.
And like the residents they serve, many alumni also take part in routine activities in the communities that they serve and love. You might see Bracknell walking his miniature schnauzer on one of Lake Mary’s streets. Or you might catch sight of Sanford Police Patrol Captain Anthony Raimondo catching a wave at a local beach.