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University Circle Police Department launches innovative Police Ambassador Program

A new partnership offers unique opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work as part-time police employees


University Circle PD Officer Joe Fazio pictured with ambassador Alyssa Carnivale.

University Circle Police Department

Police officers frequently engage with and serve people who have various intellectual disabilities or mental health issues. They consistently demonstrate empathy in their service and actively seek ways to assist these individuals. Typically, our interactions are one-sided, focusing on providing assistance. However, the University Circle (Ohio) Police Department’s new pilot program aims to transform this into a mutually beneficial relationship, simultaneously serving the community and individuals with these challenges.

The program introduces a novel Police Ambassador role, created in partnership with the HELP Foundation, which supports those with intellectual disabilities, and the Magnolia Clubhouse, which aids those with mental health struggles. This collaboration provides meaningful job opportunities for individuals facing these challenges. Following a thorough vetting process, including interviews and background checks, one individual from each institution has been hired as a part-time UCPD employee. These Police Ambassadors, working 2 to 4 hours a week, are issued uniforms with their names embroidered, the cost of which is shared between the HELP Foundation and Magnolia Clubhouse.


Ambassador Sherena Whaley (second from left) pictured with Chief Tom Wetzel and some of her family, as well as her advocate, Barb Shuler, from the HELP Foundation.

University Circle Police Department

The ambassadors are paired with department police officers who volunteered for this assignment. These officers aim to ensure a safe and enriching experience for the ambassadors, fostering potential lifelong friendships and mentorship opportunities. This experience is equally enriching for the officers, who gain a new perspective on life through the lens of the ambassadors.

The Police Ambassadors’ duties are diverse, ranging from clerical and administrative tasks at the police station to greeting visitors and assisting at the dispatch window. They will also play an active role in community policing events such as Coffee with a Cop and Skate with a Cop, representing UCPD and engaging with the community.


Ambassador Sherena Whaley pictured with Chief Tom Wetzel.

University Circle Police Department

The ambassadors will join officers during walk-through visits to renowned institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Severance Hall, and participate in friendly neighborhood walks. To monitor the program and gather service data, ambassadors will complete daily activity sheets, providing insights into their experiences and measurable outcomes for potential grant requests.

Safety is paramount in this program. The ambassadors, under the careful supervision of their officer partners, will avoid hazardous situations, and bulletproof vests are provided for their protection.

The most significant impacts of this program are perhaps the intangible benefits experienced by the ambassadors. These include overcoming challenges, inspiring others with similar life experiences, and building confidence. For the UCPD, this initiative fosters deeper trust with the community, especially among those with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues. The most rewarding aspect, however, is witnessing the joy and satisfaction of the Police Ambassadors.

Chief Tom Wetzel is a 32-year veteran police officer and currently leading a northeast Ohio suburban police department. A former SWAT commander, he is an adjunct professor in community policing, a certified law enforcement executive and a graduate of the Police Executive Leadership College. An instructor for Northcoast Polytechnic Institute, Chief Wetzel is an internationally published author for numerous police trade publications and a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He co-developed a school/community policing children’s Internet and stranger danger safety program called e-Copp, an educational children’s online protection program.