By JACKIE ORCHARD
The sun is just setting. It’s “the golden hour” as Officer Bragulla grabs an extra breathalyzer kit for her Friday night shift on campus. She fits me with a bullet proof vest, just in case, but assures me it goes well with my top.
“Usually Friday and Saturday are our busiest days because we have a lot of kids that are going out drinking,” she says.
Bragulla is on the C-line shift, 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.
“It’s kind of when the most stuff happens,” she explains as we cruise along the main campus road in front of the athletic complex. “In that time we have between three and five officers on the road. Each of us might get seven or eight calls on a busy night.”
The inside of the squad car is packed to the brim with tools. The center consul is occupied by a large, glowing computer and keyboard, used for looking up names and plates in “the system.”
A rifle rattles in its metal holder, just behind her right shoulder between the seats. Two radios offer constant chatter from neighboring units and her own dispatcher.
When asked how UAlbany PD are notified of student intoxication, Bragulla says:
“A lot of times it’s us finding them, a lot of times it’s their friends calling. It’s probably more-so we get calls from friends.”
But there are other ways.
“We find a lot of people that are passed out on the ground, puking in parking lots, and we have to check on them and have them medically evaluated so they don’t, like, sleep in a parking lot and have all their stuff stolen.”
In the police academy they get medical training.
“Everything from CPR to treating bullet wounds,” says Bragulla. “Treating stab wounds, basic medical attention for things like hypothermia. I’ve responded to everything from people overdosing on drugs to people having anaphylactic shock to people not breathing, head injuries, broken bones… We have to know what to do for every situation.”
Bragulla recounts one particularly stressful situation. She responded to the community standards office to find a girl who was refusing to leave, possibly having a seizure.
“She was in the process of basically getting kicked out of school,” Bragulla says. “They couldn’t tell if it was a seizure but she wouldn’t get up and wouldn’t leave the office.”
The student refused medical attention and even when police called her mother would not move. A doctor determined the student was not mentally stable and needed to go to the hospital.
Then, the student started biting.
“She was trying to bite people, she was spitting, screaming. Extremely volatile,” says Bragulla.
There were cops and firefighters there, everybody was trying to get her to calm down.
“She ended up biting a firefighter,” says Bragulla. “And then we found out she had HIV.”
The firefighter went to the hospital and ended up being ok.
“But it was a very stressful situation because all of our safety was at risk because of her medical conditions.”
Despite situations like this, Bragulla says she is very easy-going, and doesn’t usually take her work home with her. But there are some exceptions.
“The sexual assaults,” she says. “Especially when it’s my call and I’m hearing the story recounted from their mouth about how somebody violated them. Those are the ones I take home a little bit more.”
But she tries not to think about it in her off-time.
“It doesn’t help them, because we can’t look for criminals at home,” she says. “And, how are you supposed to be a useful member of society if you’re psychologically pent up and thinking about stuff that’s not beneficial?”
Bragulla worked for campus security before she became a police officer, in both jobs she dealt with sexual assault cases.
Having dealt with her own sexual assault, Bragulla is passionate about helping others.
“When I was 11-years-old two men tried to rape and murder me,” Bragulla says. “They were strangers. I was alone at the time, I was outside. And it was two people that were, I believe 18 or 17, intoxicated, and I managed to fight my way out of it and survive.”
She remembers how they threatened her.
“They had a knife,” Bragulla says. “They told me they were going to slit my throat.”
Bragulla never knew any police officers growing up, so she never thought about going to one for help.
“I came from a European family where we kind of handled our own problems,” she says. “Calling the police wasn’t really thought about.”
Now, Bragulla hopes to be to others what she never had herself.
“For years I didn’t tell a single person,” she says. “So growing up I wanted to be somebody that somebody could go to for help.”
Bragulla wants to be approachable to students, she wants them to know they can reach out, especially if they are assaulted.
“You don’t have to deal with things by yourself,” she says. “You can seek justice. It’s not something that you just deal with and you let somebody go for. It’s something that you seek justice for.”
Bragulla also teaches a RAD class on campus: Rape Aggression Defense.
“I know first hand what it’s like to have to fight for your life,” she says. “And I want other people to take it seriously and have the tools necessary to fight for their life.”
She says that many people show up to the class not even knowing how to make a fist.
“It’s disheartening to me,” she says. “Every class that I teach, people don’t know anything about how to defend themselves. They don’t know how to punch. They don’t know how dangerous it is to walk alone at 3 a.m. in the morning as a female dressed in clothes where they can’t defend themselves.”
Bragulla remembers watching CSI when she was young, thinking maybe she could do that one day, but never be a police officer.
“For some reason I didn’t think that I could do it,” she says. “I didn’t think I could become a law enforcement officer.”
Bragulla started college in the medical field because she knew she wanted to help people, but wasn’t sure how yet. It wasn’t until she was helping her boyfriend with his criminal justice homework that she realized what she wanted to do.
“I would be reading through his textbooks and I was just completely enthralled by what was in the books. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is extremely interesting.’ And I thought, ‘Maybe I could actually do this.’”
Bragulla switched her major to criminal justice, and after some other brief jobs, including a tomato sauce saleswoman, she became a cop at 25.
“I have never looked back,” Bragulla says. “I found my dream job.”
Bragulla hopes that when students see her they don’t just see a uniform. She says you can talk to her and she hopes you will.
“I heard someone say once, ‘Ah, she searched my room one time, she’s cool!’ and I was like, ‘I’m glad we’re cool!’”
To women everywhere, Bragulla has some advice.
“Never doubt yourself,” she says. “Whatever hole it is that you’re in, you can climb out of it as long as you keep trying. Never stop fighting.”
On October 16, Bragulla turns 27. She plans to spend the next year like she has every other: hiking the Appalachian trail, reading Dean Koontz, and, most of all, helping people.
The sun has fully set. I return the (very fashionable) bullet-proof vest and say goodbye to the dispatchers who yell, “Hope you got some good pics!”
I shake Sonia Bragulla’s hand and the last thing she says as I leave the station:
“Be safe. Please get home safe.”
***Keep an eye out for part II of this piece: RAD Class with UAlbany PD. Coming soon!