A proud graduate of the FBI National Academy, Major Dave Zambri has learned that from Asia to Africa and even right here in Central Florida, law enforcement faces similar problems.
Serving with the UCF Police Department since 1993, Zambri was nominated to attend the 10-week academy by UCF Chief of Police Richard Beary, who has a National Academy ring of his own that he earned 30 years ago.
"The FBI Academy to law enforcement is like what West Point is to the Military," Beary said of the program. "Less than a percentage of 1 percent even gets an invitation to attend."
The prestigious program sees officers from all around the world, including Slovenia, Iraq, Turkey and Hong Kong, as well as local agencies, looking to increase their leadership skills.
"You would expect that someone in Australia's issues are so much different, and they're not," Zambri said.
During the 10 weeks, attendees are completely isolated from their work and fully immersed in 17 credits worth of classes, which range in leadership courses to physical fitness challenges.
Along with regular workouts, which Zambria described as sometimes "punishing," officers worked hard to qualify to run the Yellow Brick Road, a 6-mile Marine obstacle course.
In addition to promoting physical health, the academy is great tool for officers to learn what's worked and what hasn't worked for other agencies, Beary said.
Body cameras, for example, were a hot topic during the program, Zambri said, as some state laws make it hard to implement such practices. As an agency that's successfully adopted body cams, UCF PD can offer advice to other departments at the academy.
"It's great to reach out to the people in Central Florida, but sometimes there's a better idea elsewhere," Zambri said of the connections he made at the academy. "And it's just a phone call away."
A handful of other university officers also took part in the leadership training. And although crime-reduction strategies were a focus of the program, Zambri said, in most cases, only broader issues can be compared from campus to campus.
"If you're looking at crime around the campus, then that's really UCF specific. Whatever they do at the University of Florida doesn't really help us here," he explained. "But if you want to look at how do we look at issues in our housing, how do we look at things like underage drinking, how do we deal with Title IX issues, those are issues that we all would talk about because it's unique to a university setting or a campus setting not just necessarily to the community around you."
Of the once-in-a-lifetime experience, one particular relationship stuck out to him.
At the academy was a female officer from Iraq, who Zambri said was standoffish at first, as she had not heard the best things about American men. But one day, he saw her taking the Fitness Challenge.
"She was going to take another lap around, she was tired. One of the classmates put his arm around her and said I'll go with you," Zambri said. " … Maybe she'll go back and really make a big difference in peoples perception. … Before, I'm sure she would not have wanted him even near her and by the end you could tell they were really the best of friends."
In fact, Zambri said many of the international students expressed how welcomed they felt by their American classmates.
He might not have traveled as far as other attendees, but Zambri named missing home as the biggest struggle he faced at the academy — that and the cold weather.
Held at the University of Virginia with snow on the ground, the program was a bit of a climate shock for the native Floridian who loves to kayak and camp.
Through the academy, Zambri also got his first taste of dorm living. The UCF alumnus was always a commuter, but he soon adjusted to the close quarters he shared with his roomie from Washington.
And when he's back in the sunny weather, Zambri is the department's go-to guy for football games and other large-scale events. With a bachelor's and master's degree from UCF, Zambri attended college back when the university was home to just about 20,000 students. With such fond memories of his own college experience, he hopes to bring the same to current and future Knights.
With no plans to leave the UCF force any time soon, Zambri hopes to become a chief himself one day — as do many other academy graduates. But again, the outdoorsy Floridian hopes to stay here in Central Florida.
Caroline Glenn is the News Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @byCarolineGlennor email her at CarolineG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.