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Wolf Discusses U.K. Students on Ride-Alongs During Pulse Shooting

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As Police Responded to the Orlando Shooting, Some Students Were Along for the Ride

By Beckie Supiano, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Also view the article at

When the police responded to the shooting that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub last month in Orlando, Fla., some of them had company. A handful of students from Britain's University of Gloucestershire happened to be shadowing local officers that night as part of a comparative-policing exchange program with the University of Central Florida.

While the students were not at Pulse, the scene of the rampage, some were with officers who formed a perimeter around it. They heard the incident play out in real time over police radio.

The Chronicle spoke recently with Ross Wolf, the program's U.S. director at Central Florida, where he is an associate dean in the College of Health and Public Affairs. Mr. Wolf, who worked as a deputy and detective in the Orange County sheriff's office before going into teaching, described what the students experienced, how they reacted, and what UCF did to support them afterward. The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

Q. What kind of students participate in the exchange program, and what are their professional ambitions, usually?

A. Our students that come from the United States are all criminal-justice students or criminal-justice minors. Many of them are interested in becoming police officers, but not all of them. And that's true for criminal-justice majors as a whole - a lot of them are interested in the field, the profession, but don't necessarily want to work in law enforcement. Some of them are interested in continuing their education, teaching; some of them are interested in working in other areas of criminal justice, such as corrections, or communications, or the private sector.

And the same is true with the students that come over this way [from Britain]. Those students are criminology students, instead of criminal-justice students, but the same thing - some are interested in policing as a profession, but the rest are interested in policing academically.

Q. As part of this program, students shadow law-enforcement officials. Could you explain a little bit about how those placements work, and what students get out of them?

A. Our students that go to England are put out on patrol with their officers. Really what the students learn a lot about is how the officers work with citizens they come in contact with. They're able to kind of get a snapshot, because that's really all it is, a snapshot of what policing is like. You can't require it, really, but I ask my students to do a ride-along here in the United States before they go over, just so they have something to compare it to.

Q. I understand that some of the students visiting from the U.K. were shadowing local law enforcement during the time that they were responding to the shooting at Pulse. How many students, and who would they have been with?

A. About half of the [19] students were out on ride-alongs at the time, about half had already been dropped off at the hotel because it was near the end of the shift. The ones who were out on patrol were with either the Orange County sheriff's office or the Orlando Police Department.

Q. How did you first hear about the shooting, and what was your reaction?

A. Because of my relationship with the sheriff's office, I had the van that was transporting students back and forth from the hotel. So I actually heard on the police radio what was going on. I knew the officers had been briefed about making sure the students were safe. I knew the officers had to do what they had to do - they had an incident that was unfolding, and they had to react to it. It was a major event this night.

But I'm as concerned about students who might have been on a call where a police officer meets with someone who is hostile. Having students do a ride-along, which is very important for the learning process - it's not something we take lightly.

Q. What did the students do as the officers they were shadowing became involved?

A. I know that at least one of the students was left back by a vehicle while the officer ran to the actual location of the incident, but the rest of them stayed with their officers in the vehicle.

Many officers that responded were not in close proximity. They ended up taking roadblock positions to make sure that the people weren't going toward the incident.

Q. What was the students' reaction? Shootings like this don't seem to happen in the U.K. as they do in the U.S.

A. Guns are pretty much illegal in the United Kingdom, with some exceptions. However, there are gun incidents - I don't know if you remember, but shortly after the nightclub incident, there was a British politician who was assassinated. They do happen in the United Kingdom; they just certainly don't happen as often as they do here in the United States.

So their reaction, I think, was on par with that. They, just like all of us, were very saddened by the events that took place. Anybody who knew what was going on because they were listening to the radio, everyone was very concerned about everyone's safety.

Q. Hearing the shooting play out in real time over the radio must have been such a different experience than the rest of us had waking up and reading about it.

A. It's a very different experience. I think some of them, like me, probably felt a little helpless that they couldn't do anything because they weren't right there. How can I help, you know? I'm hearing it on the radio, but I'm not right there.

Q. Obviously the shooting was really difficult for lots of people, but your students were unusually close to it. What did you do to make sure they had the support they needed to deal with the aftermath?

A. We had some events planned the day following the ride-along, and we canceled those. We utilized university counselors, and also the sheriff's office provided a chaplain to come out at the same time to talk to the students. Some of the students were a little upset because they had seen people crying, they had seen people saying that they think people are dead. To hear that secondhand from somebody, even if you're not right there at the scene, is emotional, and we provided some counseling because of that.

Q. Will this change anything in terms of how the program works going forward?

A. I hope not. There was actually an open email that the parents of one of the students who was most involved in the scene had sent to the University of Gloucestershire, where the parents had said that they were extremely proud of their daughter for doing this, and that they hope that this wouldn't change the wonderful experience that she had had on this trip for future students.

Q. What advice do you have for other professors who find their classwork brings students unexpectedly close to a traumatic situation?

A. Most faculty who do study abroad know that one of the most important things to bring with you is the ability to be flexible. If any kind of event happens where a student becomes ill and has to go to an emergency room, or a student trips and hurts themselves, the program needs to be able to adapt and change to manage the incident.

A faculty member may not want to do study abroad alone, without having a graduate teaching assistant at least, or another faculty member, so that if something happens there are two people who can take the lead. It's really important to have that setup, and not just go into a situation blind, figuring that everything is going to work exactly as the paper schedule says it's going to work out.

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