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The annual UCFPD awards ceremony celebrates officers and community members who have contributed to keeping campus safe. This year's ceremony took place Feb. 4 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fairwinds Alumni Center. Video by Bernard Wilchusky

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When little Jack Elliot ran to the front of the room to pin the badge on his father’s uniform, the crowd in the Fairwinds Alumni Center burst into applause.

It was Thursday, 2:30 p.m., halfway through an awards ceremony commending the officers and community members whose support was essential in fulfilling what Chief Richard Beary said was the UCF Police Department’s primary mission: to protect and serve the school’s students, staff and visitors.

“We reduced crime by 23 percent last year,” Beary said. “While everyone else is seeing crime going up, we’re pushing crime down despite more students, more traffic and more situations around us than ever before.”

More than 100 awards across a dozen different categories were distributed during the one-hour ceremony. In addition to awards and commendations, five officers received promotions — among them Jack Elliot’s father, Alan Elliot, who advanced in rank from officer to corporal.

One of the department’s highest awards, Officer of the Year, was received by officer Amber Abud. This marked the first instance in the department’s history that the award was earned by a female officer.

Five officers received the department’s life-saving award, which recognized their roles in protecting the UCF community from bodily harm. Sgt.James Mangan and officer Melissa Guadagnino were commended for their roles in responding to the collapse of student Michael Namey on Sept. 23, 2015, at the College of Health and Public Affairs Building I.

Sgt. Elwood Furnas and officer Matthew Scott were awarded for establishing a perimeter and providing aid to the victim of The Marquee shooting Jan. 21.

Officer Frank Imparato was awarded for his efforts in locating a missing woman on Jan. 12. Imparato was also one of the first officers to respond during the Tower I incident on March 18, 2013, when James Seevakumaran, a former UCF student, committed suicide and was discovered with a large cache of weapons and explosive devices, according to a UCFPD incident report.

During his introduction, Beary noted that recent years had provided police officers with a host of new challenges, such as the public’s perception of police conduct and the level of service police are able to provide to growing communities.

“[The challenge] for us, in particular at UCF, is dealing with the growth and making sure we’re providing the level of service that we need to our students, faculty and staff,” he said. “So we’re dealing with that growth. You know, law enforcement has had some black eyes, and we want to make sure we do everything we can to enhance the community’s support for what we do.”

In January 2015, to account for the rising UCF population, UCFPD announced plans to hire 15 new officers each year. Deputy Chief Brett Meade said that, to be successful as an officer at a university police department, new hires would have to possess a willingness to engage with students and the larger campus community. It was an observation especially pertinent to the several community service officers recognized during the ceremony who might one day join the ranks of UCF’s men in blue - well, black and gold.

“It takes a special person,” Meade said. “It takes someone that doesn’t live for the excitement of being a police officer or a deputy sheriff that runs call to call to call. It takes someone that understands and practices community policing.”

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Bernard Wilchusky is the Editor-in-Chief of the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @cameradudeman or email him at BernardW@centralfloridafuture.com.

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