Vt. trooper hopes to build bridge between police, New Americans

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 4:56 PM EST
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A first for the Vermont State Police-- Omar Bulle is the first Somali Bantu state trooper, representing part of the New American community that calls Vermont home.

Tpr. Bulle said he became a trooper to build bridges between law enforcement and the new American community, something he first did in Winooski during a time of crisis.

“Whenever I am putting on the uniform, what’s going through my mind is that I am going out to help people,” Bulle said.

Signing on for the night shift out of the Williston barracks, Bulle has worked for five weeks now with his field training officer, Tpr. Josh Gurwicz.

“He has been great,” Gurwicz said. “He is a hard worker.”

Bulle graduated from the Vermont Police Academy in January. He’s the first Vermont trooper of Somali descent and he is believed to be the first who is a New American.

“In that community, I don’t think there is anyone that knows a law enforcement officer on a personal level and I want to serve as an option,” he said.

Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, at 8 years old, Bulle and his family moved to Vermont.

“When I came to Vermont, I did not speak any English,” he said.

But Bulle picked it up quickly and is now fluent in three languages: Somali, Maay Maay and English. He grew up in Burlington and graduated from BHS in 2014.

But it was a tragic event that inspires him to put on the Green and Gold-- a drowning in the Winooski River. In 2017, an 11-year-old boy playing with friends was swept away. Bulle said he helped translate between the grieving family and police.

“That’s when I said to myself, oh, there’s a gap between my community and law enforcement,” Bulle said.

It wasn’t easy fulfilling his dream of becoming a trooper. Bulle said it was a grueling process, mentally and physically, but he earned his badge.

“It was a difficult process but me making it through that process proves that it is possible and I hope more New Americans apply for law enforcement or even EMT,” he said.

Weeks into the job, Bulle believes he’s already making an impact.

At the University Mall shooting in February, Bulle said he was one of the first on the scene helping clear the area. He said one woman from the New American community recognized him and told him what she knew.

“I think she came up to me because she was like, ‘Oh, I know this guy. He speaks my language,’” Bulle said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: It was like she felt represented.

Tpr. Omar Bulle: Correct.

And that representation is important for those in the immigrant and refuge community.

“Most of the time they fear the police. They think that the police is profiling them,” said Symphorien Sikyala, a leader in the local refugee community.

He said Bulle’s badge makes an impression on the community.

“Is good news for the young people in our community,” Sikyala said.

As for Bulle, he said he hopes to inspire others to join law enforcement. And he has a message for fellow troopers and officers about the New American community.

“The system is different from what they understand or what they are used to. And as long as you have patience, they will be fine,” he said.

I asked Tpr. Bulle about aspirations or goals with the state police. He said he is just focused on his current objective of being the best road trooper he can be.

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