University of Miami Police Department celebrates golden anniversary

Police Lieutenant Trevor Shinn chats with students outside the Shalala Student Center. The University of Miami Police Department's Friendly Interaction Program encourages officers to get out of their cars and interact with people on campus. Photos: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

By Barbara Gutierrez

Police Lieutenant Trevor Shinn chats with students outside the Shalala Student Center. The University of Miami Police Department's Friendly Interaction Program encourages officers to get out of their cars and interact with people on campus. Photos: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

University of Miami Police Department celebrates golden anniversary

By Barbara Gutierrez
The 31-member force will hold a gala to recognize its five decades of protecting the University community.

If you are walking on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus, chances are someone is watching you. The University of Miami Police Department continuously monitors more than a thousand cameras mounted throughout the campus.

This is one of the many ways that University police keeps everyone safe, something it has been doing for five decades.  

This month the UMPD celebrates its 50th anniversary with a gala at the Donna E. Shalala Student Center on Friday, Dec. 6.

“I am proud that we have brought crime down on campus to less than 100 incidents a year for almost three years in a row,” said Police Chief David Rivero, as he reflected on his team’s greatest accomplishment. “The old timers said it could not be done, but we did it.” 

David Rivero
Chief David Rivero

Rivero, a former City of Miami police major with extensive knowledge in homicides, came to the University 13 years ago. He credits the lowered crime to increased patrols, wise use of new technology, and continuous crime prevention education of the University community.

“This is a tremendous achievement for the University of Miami Police Department,” said Jacqueline Travisano, executive vice president for business and finance and chief operating officer. “We are all proud of the dedication, professionalism, and community service exemplified by our officers and staff.”

The relationship the 31-member department enjoys with the Coral Gables Police Department also helps. All UMPD are sworn Coral Gables officers; they share the radio and police report systems. Every Monday, Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak meets with Rivero to compare information and update each other on crime statistics in the area.

Hudak, who is a University alumnus, is proud of the special relationship between the departments.

“This collaborative effort was the only one of its kind and is now modeled by other cities and private universities throughout the State of Florida,” he said. “Because of the ever-changing demands from a student population and the needs of the campus, focused policing is essential and those officers, both new and seasoned, deliver those services with excellence.”

The relationship is fitting since the University is almost a “mini city within another city,” said Rivero. Thousands of people daily are on the 200 plus acres of the campus, and UMPD officers constantly patrol the different areas by car, bicycle, or on foot.

Theft is the number one crime on campus, mostly because students leave computers or other devices unattended. Bike thefts used to be a problem, but now students are required to register their bikes with UMPD, which provides students with a free U-Lock. If the bike is lost or stolen, it is easy for the police to find them.  

Mindful that an open campus is exposed to visitors – wanted and unwanted – the department has two K9 members, the only university police department with this distinction. Thunder, a yellow Labrador Retriever, is trained as an explosives ordinance detection K9, and Lightning, a Golden Retriever, will soon be fully commissioned and is trained to detect guns and ammunition.

William Gerlach
Capt. William Gerlach

“The old joke was that University cops walked around to make sure that the kids were not making too much noise,” said Capt. William Gerlach, who came to UM to study 38 years ago and stayed. “But we are a metropolitan community, so it is not a traditional school. We have to do a lot of interacting with the students.”

To that end, Rivero has instituted the Friendly Interaction Program, which encourages officers to get out of their cars and interact with people on campus. After each conversation, the officer is tasked with getting an email or phone number to send information to the student or staff member. The goal is to reach 1,000 such interactions a year.

“At first they resisted me,” said Rivero, adding that younger members of the force prefer to be on their electronic devices. But now, every officer has complied.

UMPD Sgt. Steny Garcia-Montes has been with the department 34 years, and what has kept her here is the constant interaction with the students and the members of the UM community.

“You get to meet all types of people and different cultures,” she said. “Our style of policing is more customer-oriented.” 

That customer-oriented service extends to crime prevention efforts as well.

Alexandra Martinez
Officer Alexandra Martinez

Officer Alexandra Martinez, like many other officers of UMPD, had years of previous experience in law enforcement. For 10 years, she was a Pinecrest Police Department police officer and detective. Her job at UM is head of the crime prevention unit, where her goal is to educate members of the UM community on safety.

She handles programs such as self-defense classes, bike theft prevention programs (including the bike registry), educational events, and campus presentations. She also manages all social media, the department’s website, and digital publications—all geared to giving tips to the general public on how to keep safe.

“I have found the UM students have a high level of awareness when it comes to personal safety,” she said. “Crime prevention starts with self-awareness and knowledge. We will continue to equip our UM community with the tools they will need when encountering any threat, on or off campus.”