A Loss of Our Own

 In Alumni, Criminal Justice

By Camille Murawski

Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, ’98, ’02, of the Orlando Police Department, and Orange County Deputy First Class Norman Lewis, ’04, are the second and third law enforcement officers to die in America this year.

Their deaths have hit us hard in the College of Health and Public Affairs because both of these heroes walked our buildings, sat at our desks and earned their degrees from us. They will never be forgotten.

The mood is somber throughout the college, home of the Department of Criminal Justice and School of Public Administration, where Clayton and Lewis studied. Ross Wolf, associate dean of academic affairs and technology, recalled Lewis from his days as his instructor:

“Norm was one of those students that stood out from the crowd. He literally stood head and shoulders above the other students, but always had a huge smile on his face, and was full of kindness,” Wolf said. “He and I talked many times about his interest in serving his community as a law enforcement officer. While serving as an intern with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, he would meet me in my office and talk about the excitement he had for his chosen career, and the joy he had for this occupation.”

Prior to his current role, Wolf was a deputy sheriff and detective with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. He then added, “Several years ago I ran into him just after he had started working with the Motors Unit, and he was just as happy then to share his excitement and talk about his new role.”

When Chris Sileo, ’08, was minoring in criminal justice, he participated in a “ride along” with Lewis as part of his curriculum. Sileo said the one night with Lewis taught him more than he thought possible about what service to the community really means. He saw Lewis handle difficult situations that night with poise, humor and kindness.

Lewis told Sileo that initially he had a tough time on the streets because the neighborhood thugs would look at all 6 foot 3 inches, 300 pounds of him and think, “There’s no way that guy can outrun me.” What they didn’t know was that Lewis, a former UCF offensive lineman, was very quick and light on his feet. Lewis told Sileo that eventually, word spread around the community about Lewis’s prowess and speed, and they simply stopped running.

“Thank you, Norman,” Sileo said. “Thank you for making our community a better place, and for making me a better person. You are truly amazing!”

Even those who had never met Clayton or Lewis have been moved to visit UCF’s social media pages and offer condolences to their grieving families, and to the UCF family. The news posting of the two law enforcement officers has been shared more than two thousand times so far, and has drawn more than 100 comments from well-wishers.

The news also has touched our UCF students who are considering a career in law enforcement. Lambda Alpha Epsilon is the criminal justice pre-professional society at UCF. Some of its members go on to careers in policing, like Clayton and Lewis, and they are keenly aware of the risks for those who choose policing as their life’s work.

“The past few days have been filled with sorrow and disbelief, but we also hope that [the suspect] will be found so that justice may be served. These challenges and chilling incidents are continuously determining how far we are willing to go as future servants of the public. May the victims rest in peace,” said Milena Canete, president of the UCF LAE chapter.

For Katie Calamo, treasurer of the UCF LAE chapter, the news of the two fallen officers hit her particularly hard.

“It breaks my heart to hear of the loss of these two heroes. It definitely raises concerns for those, including myself, who want to go into law enforcement; however, I use that fear as fuel to keep me focused on my future. I want to ensure we have a better and safer world to live in, for generations to come. Thank you for your service; we have big shoes to fill in, but I have no doubt that we can do it. May they rest in peace.”

Jacinta Gau and Eugene Paoline are professors in the Department of Criminal Justice and teach courses in policing to upper-level students. Some of their students are already law enforcement officers.

“It is not always a dangerous job,” Paoline said. “But, you always have to be prepared for the job.” The actual training to become a law enforcement officer, Paoline added, takes place at a police academy where recruits must pass stringent physical and medical requirements, and receive legal training, driving skills, firearms and other training before they are allowed on the streets.

“There is a tricky balance between being on guard and becoming paranoid,” Gau said, acknowledging the dangers that police officers face every day. But, she added, although the tragic deaths of Clayton and Lewis are not everyday occurrences, “This reinforces the danger that violence in policing is unexpected, but no one has to remind our officers that it’s dangerous work.”

Both Gau and Paoline work with the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which are still reeling from the psychological effects of last June’s Pulse shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. Paoline said, “It’s a very tough time for the two agencies to lose people. It’s a lot for them to deal with.”

“We should be thankful that such brave men and women … are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, such as they did, to ensure domestic tranquility,” said David Guzman, LAE’s sergeant at arms. “Let this serve as a reminder of their constant vigilance, perseverance and dedication to our society.”

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