By Krista Richmond/UGA Today
Carlyn Lee is prepared for anything.
As a lieutenant with the UGA Police Department, she’s ready for any situation and makes sure her team is, too.
“I’m here to teach, and I’m here to protect,” she said.
Lee grew up in the Chicago area and attended Iowa State University, thinking she wanted to go into forensics as a biology major with a criminal justice minor. She had to do an internship with a police department as part of her minor and “fell in love with police work from the first ride-along.”
Lee changed her major to sociology and started working at her university police department as a dispatcher. She knew she wanted to become a police officer, and when her parents decided to retire in Georgia, she looked for opportunities here to start her career.
“I knew I liked university policing. I liked the setting, and I like the students. I wanted to do more outreach with them and thought a college campus would be the best way to do that,” she said. “I want to help people when their parents aren’t here to walk them through it. I want to be that friendly face.”
Lee has been an officer with UGA’s police department for nearly nine years. She’s on the K-9 explosive team and has been with her canine officer, Oscar, for seven years. As partners, they’ve done everything from working local calls to securing the Masters Tournament.
“As much as I love the other aspects of this job, having a dog has brought me the most joy. It’s given me opportunities to see new things around the state and further my training,” she said. “He’s a ball of fire. I’ve had him since he was 13 months old. He’s my partner and my best friend.”
As part of a K-9 unit, she and Oscar go through regular trainings and yearly recertifications through the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency. They learn about handling canine officers, safety measures and search patterns for the dog. Lee and Oscar spend about eight hours each week on training.
Lee moved through the ranks as a corporal, then as a training officer for three years, then as a sergeant. As a lieutenant, she oversees a team of 10-12 officers. Lee does the administrative work, like completing payroll and managing leave requests, but she also goes out on as many calls as she can.
“We’re the ones who show up when people call our police department,” she said. “I still really like taking calls and being out on the road because that’s what I was originally called to do.”
And it is mental health and sexual assault calls, in particular, where Lee feels she can truly help.
“Being a female officer gives me a unique perspective on those calls,” she said. “I’ve gotten very good at taking the initial call for a sexual assault, and I’ve found that I can help them through the process because I know it can be a hard time. Being that face of someone who cares is what I really like.”
What Lee enjoys most about university policing is the outreach—getting to build relationships through various campus law enforcement programs like Coffee with a Cop through Student Care and Outreach and even setting up a booth at Orientation. The K-9 teams also do outreach with the canine officers on campus and at local elementary schools.
“It’s a lot more helping rather than enforcement. It’s much more centered on teaching students about how to be adults instead of enforcing everything,” she said. “I want to go out and change the view of policing.”