Instilling confidence through self-defense

United Way employees participate in a self-defense class hosted by University of Miami Police Department. Photo and video: T.J. Lievonen/University of Miami

By Amanda M. Perez

United Way employees participate in a self-defense class hosted by University of Miami Police Department. Photo and video: T.J. Lievonen/University of Miami

Instilling confidence through self-defense

By Amanda M. Perez
Self-defense classes quadruple in number as UMPD ramps up their crime prevention department.

Confident. Proud. Fearless. That’s how many women feel after taking part in the University of Miami Police Department’s self-defense class.

There’s a growing increase recently in the number of people interested in taking self-defense classes at UM and for officials with UMPD, there’s no coincidence why. Alexandra Martinez, crime prevention officer and program manager for UMPD, has been the leading force behind helping the self-defense program flourish. Martinez joined UMPD a year ago. She said she was inspired to kick the program into gear after working as a detective and crime prevention officer while at Pinecrest Police Department.

“I believe communication and the push to promote the classes have helped the spike in attendance. A lot of people on campus didn’t even know we offered this course. We’re constantly trying to make it known to everyone who lives and works here,” said Martinez.

The SAFE Program (an acronym for Self-defense Awareness & Familiarization Exchange) is an unparalleled 2-hour educational awareness and crime-victim prevention program. It encompasses strategies, options, and prevention techniques that provide teenagers and women with information that may reduce their risk of exposure to violence. SAFE certified instructors teach the program several times throughout the semester.

“For me as an instructor, I have two daughters in college, so it’s really important for me to teach this class,” said UMPD Detective Tom Carrigan.

Carrigan has been working with the University’s police department for four years now. Before coming to UM, Carrigan was a sergeant for the Coral Gables Police Department for 28 years. Carrigan instills the message that 90 percent of self-defense is awareness, risk reduction, and avoiding confrontation.

“It’s great to provide awareness to the students. Most of the students who attend UM are 18 years old, from small towns and they’re not used to living in a big city like Miami. I think the class gives them more confidence when they leave,” said Carrigan.

Another program UMPD offers is the R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense) Program. The course is a 12-hour self-defense class typically completed over the course of several sessions. R.A.D. focuses on increasing overall awareness, risk reduction behaviors in various settings, and a diverse set of practical physical techniques. The R.A.D. program includes a capstone portion of the class where attendees undergo a simulation of a real-world situation. During this simulation, they may use the techniques they have learned on an instructing male officer. Martinez says she’s currently networking with neighboring agencies to combine resources and revamp it for the upcoming spring semester.

“I absolutely love teaching the class. As a R.A.D. instructor I go through the same scenario as well, so it’s always very impactful to put yourself in a dangerous situation in a controlled environment,” said Martinez.

She says the goal of both of these classes is to build confidence within.

“The fact that we have this program is just fantastic. It’s very important that we offer these classes because people who enter as students here at UM are part of a vulnerable age group,” said Martinez.

The recent success of the program is inspiring UMPD to create a more inclusive program for both women and men.

“There’s been a lot of interest since we increased the knowledge of the class in the community. With that increase a lot of men have come forward to ask if they can participate also,” said Carrigan.

Martinez guarantees the information people learn in the class can be used for a lifetime.

“Everyone who takes these classes say they have so much fun while learning so many lessons,” said Martinez.

 “I’ve gotten 100 percent positive feedback. It’s a very open and laidback atmosphere to help people open up and talk about their experiences,” said Carrigan.

Both Carrigan and Martinez hope they can spread the word around campus about how important it is to be aware of your surroundings.

“Most people go about their daily lives unaware of all the dangers that are all around us. As you live your life you need to make sure personal safety is part of that list of things to do on a daily basis,” said Martinez.

UMPD encourages all members of the campus community to download the UGuardian app. It is a free smartphone safety app which UM students, faculty, and staff can download on their iOS or Android devices. The app allows the user to pre-register emergency information and utilize a virtual trip safety escort. It is also a one touch call button to UMPD.

“The app is like a buddy system. If you’re for example at Pearson and you’re going to the library to study, you could download it and your friend can follow and track you to the library to make sure you arrived safely,” said Carrigan.

Martinez believes her department will continue growing in the near future.

“My goal is to have this class mandated. I think every freshman coming in should be required to take it. If we start mandating it I think this would be a huge accomplishment for the University of Miami,” She said.

For more information about UMPD’s programs visit To sign up for a class, send a mail to Follow UMPD on Twitter @UMPolice.