Army Lt. Trains Close to Home in Florida Police Department

SHSU Intern Leo Correa takes a bite from Mark of the K-9 Unit
SHSU Intern Leo Correa takes a bite from Mark of the K-9 Unit.

Leo Correa went to Florida for his criminal justice internship, serving in a suburban police department 20 miles outside Orlando.

This unique opportunity in the Winter Springs Police Department in Central Florida allowed Correa, a Lieutenant in the Early Commissioning Program of the U.S. Army, to get hands-on experience in law enforcement, to complete his bachelor’s degree at Sam Houston State University, and to work close to family before his next assignment. Correa plans a career in the Army, but said he is definitely interested in pursuing a criminal justice job upon his retirement from the military.

Correa did his internship with the Winter Springs Police Department in Florida.
Correa did his intership with the Winter Springs Police Department in Florida.

“I’ve learned a lot by being here,” said Correa. “It’s not something you can teach in a classroom. At Sam Houston State University, we learned the technical terms, like the reports that have to be issued for the FBI and about seizures, rules, courts and law, but it is another thing to do something that actually has to stand up in a court of law or actually go through the steps of Miranda rights.”

Correa is one of about 125 students from the College of Criminal Justice who participate in internships annually in federal, state and local law enforcement, corrections and victim services agencies as well as private businesses. Internships generally are taken during the last semester before graduation and include a full-time, 40-hour a week assignment. Undergraduates earn nine semester hour credits and graduate students earn six.

Correa's training included simunitions.
Correa's training included simunitions.
Internships often can be tailored to meet student’s specific needs, and opportunities are available in Texas, throughout the United States and even a few in other countries.

“We quite often place students out of state and internationally,” said Dr. Jim Dozier, Coordinator of the College of Criminal Justice Internship Program. “ Proper placement is very important. It helps assure success and increases the opportunity for employment. Leo has done very well at the Winter Springs, Florida Police Department and is an example of this success.”

Winter Springs is a suburban community of about 34,000, including retirees and professionals that work at the University of Central Florida. It has 68 sworn officers and 17 civilian employees and includes an Emergency Response Team, a K-9 Unit, Traffic Enforcement, Training Unit and Honor Guard. During his fall internship, Correa was assigned to Lt. Matt Tracht, head of the Internal Affairs Department and Team Leader for the Emergency Response Team in Winter Springs.

Correa learned water survival with the ERT.
Correa learned water survival with the ERT.
“My position is like night and day,” said Lt. Tracht. “Internal affairs is definitely a different kind of law enforcement. It is not driving around on the road; we do the checks and balance to ensure officers are doing their job in the right way. On the ERT team, we do call outs in SWAT situations.”

Correa said he had the opportunity to train with the SWAT team and K-9 units, including shooting simunitions and staging situations involving hostages, airplanes, building barricades, searches and missing people. He may be able to use many of these skills in his next assignment as an air defense artillery officer , where he was be in charge of guarding Patriot missiles and protecting the skies from enemy attack.

The Emergency Response Team simulates a raid on a plane.
The Emergency Response Team simulate a raid on a plane.
“It’s all been an eye-opener,” said Correa. “The ERT is more closely related to what I would do in the military.”

In addition to Internal Affairs and the ERT, Correa also participated in other areas of the department, including records, road patrol, investigations, evidence, booking and search warrants. He got to witness the largest marijuana seizure in the community’s history and watched the security around how the evidence was handled. He also observed the process involved in preparing a search warrant.

Lt. Tracht said that as budgets tighten and workloads increase, interns are a welcome addition to the police department, and criminal justice students are placed in areas of the department that need the most assistance. While most of his interns come from the University of Central Florida, he is happy to consider individuals from out of state campuses.

ERT officers are tasered during training.
ERT officers are tasered during training.
“He did a great job,” said Lt. Tracht. “He was definitely an asset during the time he was here. This opens a student’s eyes to what work is like. There are very busy days and very slow days.”

Correa grew up in Lake Mary, Florida, not far from Winter Springs. He graduated from the Marion Military Institute of Alabama, one of five Military Junior Colleges to offer the Early Commissioning Program. The program allows students to gain commission as a Second Lieutenant upon completion of the two year program and to complete their education at a four year institution while serving in the Army ROTC. Correa chose to pursue a degree in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University. He began as a traditional student in 2008 and wound up as an on-line student this semester from Florida to finish up his courses.

“I found that the program is well-known and it had a big interest for me because it was right down the street from the Walls Unit in Huntsville,” Correa said. After graduation in December, Correa will be assigned to Fort Sill, OK. He plans a 20-year career in the military, but hopes to continue in law enforcement.

“I have a big interest in going into law enforcement,” Correa said.

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