After 26 years working at the Orlando Police Department, Detective Rick Salcedo thought it was time to step back and transition into retirement.
But a phone call in 2016 from UCFPD Chief Carl Metzger ’03MS, who was deputy chief at the time, changed that.
Metzger wanted Salcedo — and his expertise — to improve the way the department treats victims of sexual assault. Salcedo, 57, is now UCFPD’s lead sex-crimes investigator.
“I saw how much rape victims were affected, and I knew that’s the role I wanted to take,” says Salcedo, who joined OPD’s Special Victims Unit in 1999 and has investigated sexual assault cases ever since.
Salcedo transformed the culture at UCFPD by training every officer in the trauma-informed approach, which acknowledges that a victim’s recollection of a traumatic event can be skewed or incomplete. Listening to victims and believing their story is key to the approach, Salcedo says.
“Our mind plays tricks on us whenever we are involved in a traumatic event. Our brain malfunctions.” – Rick Salcedo, UCFPD detective
“Our mind plays tricks on us whenever we are involved in a traumatic event. Our brain malfunctions. We don’t remember details of the event,” Salcedo says. “When the victim can’t give an officer the chronological order of events, officers believe victims are being untruthful, and that’s not true and it’s one of the things I want to get through [to police officers].”
But that victim-centered approach isn’t required in every police academy or department. Salcedo says he wants to bring attention to the approach, which is an “amazing” tool to use when speaking with victims. To do that, he leads 40-hour courses at local police academies, such as Valencia Community College’s School of Public Safety and Eastern Florida State College’s Public Safety Institute in Melbourne.
A big part of the course is establishing trust with those who are reporting, something Salcedo emphasizes in his work at UCF.
“The last thing you want to do as an officer is to doubt the victim’s story,” Salcedo says. “We don’t do that with any other crime. If you tell me your car was burglarized or you were robbed, I’m going to believe you. There’s no reason for you to lie. Why don’t we believe victims? Why do they have to prove they were raped?”
Salcedo is also training the next generation of UCFPD detectives, including his partner, 26-year-old Detective Danielle Hughes ’13.
Salcedo says the fear of not being believed is a huge factor that keeps victims silent, which is why friends and family members should encourage victims to report to law enforcement.
A 2017 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows out of 1,000 rapes, only 400 are reported to police, which is up from 230 in 2016.
But there’s still a lot of work to do, and UCFPD has taken several steps to make the reporting process easier for victims. In 2017, UCFPD transformed its standard interview room into a comforting space for victims. The room — decorated in soft gray and blue tones — has couches, pillows and a sand zen garden.
UCFPD also introduced the department’s first therapy dog in 2017. Paisley, a Treeing Walker Coonhound, comforts victims as they make their reports.
A distressed and emotional victim’s entire mood can shift once Paisley is brought in, Hughes says.
“And once she or he is able to calm down, we can come in and explain we’re here to help them, we’re here for them,” Hughes says. “We give the power back to the victim and let them tell us what they want to do from there.”
Let’s Be Clear: UCF stands against sexual and relationship violence. Victims who want to report a crime can start by calling UCFPD’s non-emergency line at 407-823-5555. In case of emergency, call 911. UCF Victim Services provides confidential advocacy and support to the UCF Community, 24/7. If you or someone you know has been impacted by crime, violence, or abuse, call a confidential victim advocate at 407-823-1200 or text 407-823-6868.