The University of Central Florida Police Department members, who assisted in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shootings, were commended and applauded during the department’s awards ceremony Wednesday.
The semi-annual event was held in the Wayne Densch Center for Student-Athlete Leadership, located near Bright House stadium. The audience was comprised of officers and Orlando community members being recognized for their achievements over the past months.
The UCFPD Honor Guard began the ceremony by presenting the colors and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by a few words from UCF sports announcer Erik Koehler before he passed off the mic to Police Chief Richard Beary.
Beary said that the day was meant to celebrate the positive activities the department does for the UCF community.
“I know what we do is right, what we do is proper,” Beary said. “And I know the training and preparation that we do…for those incidents that may happen in our lifetimes, I know that they’re right. The training we give is the best, and the people we work with are absolutely committed to doing the right thing, so we’re going to celebrate that today.”
Numerous officers and members of the force walked up to the front of the room to receive awards for distinguished service, physical fitness, community partnerships and commendations.
Some officers had helped disabled veterans, others tracked down a missing student with a history of depression and one officer saw that a distraught woman, who had previously attempted suicide, would be put in protective custody.
“Have you noticed the theme about helping people,” Beary said to the audience.
A notable highlight was for the UCFPD Victim Services unit, who were some of the first to arrive on scene during the Pulse nightclub shooting. The members received a standing ovation from the audience when walking up to accept their awards.
“To the men and women that responded there, my hat’s off to you, you didn’t know what you were getting into, but you handled the situation and made UCF proud,” Beary said. “But more importantly, you helped people that you didn’t even know.”
The Victim Services unit offered support for families of victims and others in the shooting’s aftermath.
“I was at the ORNC with the chaplains and all of the families waiting to hear things,” said Coretta Cotton, a senior victim advocate. “Once they started identifying victims at the hospital as well as families that we had, we’d lead them to a room with the FDLE and FBI and we’d do death notifications.”
Cotton and the rest of the unit offered what support they could.
“I’d just hug them,” Cotton said. “Offer support, offer water or tissues, be a person of comfort in that moment.”
Other awards were given for physical fitness.
“I ran the PAT [Physical Ability Test] test in under four minutes.” said Officer Matthew Scott.
The PAT test measures how quickly you can acquire items from a police vehicle, get out and complete an obstacle course.
“If you’re running after a suspect, you need to be able to catch him and get him off the streets,” Scott said. “We’re working on a college campus, and we might be getting older, but the population here stays the same age.”
The UCFPD’s community partnerships were applauded and awarded as well, with Beary highlighting the importance of the relationships between the police and the community.
Rasha Mubarak, the Orlando regional coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations, accepted an award for the group’s contributions, such as Islam 101 training for UCF officers.
The ceremony ended with some final words from Beary.
“Thank you, and make sure to take care of each other,” Beary said. “That’s what I’ve learned over a lot of years. If we don’t take care of each other, no one else is going to take care of us.”