Putting integrity and community before fear, Dee Austin assisted police in capturing multiple armed robbery suspects.

Dee Austin, an enrollment coordinator in Saint Leo University's Student Support Center, has worked in the Center for Online Learning for 13 years. She earned her bachelor's degree through the university's online criminal justice program and now she is pursuing a master's degree in criminal justice online.

So Dee understands Saint Leo's core values well. She tries to live them daily in her professional life – serving online students by providing administrative support for admissions and financial aid-related activities and programs.

Dee also takes the university's values with her into her community, as she ministers through her church to at-risk children and teens living in foster homes. She wants to teach them how principles such as integrity, respect, excellence, and personal development can help them lead positive and productive lives.

Yet, she knows that for these young people – and from personal experience – to live by one's principles, at times, can require courage.

As it did for her one recent summer morning.

A dangerous wake-up call

In the 3 a.m. silence of a humid morning last July, Dee Austin's tiny Chihuahua mix began barking uncontrollably.

Not unusual for a dog she affectionately calls her "little noisemaker" – but there was something different about this bark.

Pulling herself out of bed, Dee peeked between the slates of her bedroom blinds. Outside her apartment, several men stood on the street by her Ford Explorer. Hoping that they were not planning to steal it, she watched. Seconds later, they ran up her apartment complex stairs.

She moved to the living room to look through the peephole.

Hearing the clear cocking of pistols in the hallway – and fearing that they were about to break down her door while her two children slept – she punched 9-1-1 on her phone.

Calmly and meticulously, moving from her door to her apartment balcony and remaining hidden in the shadows, Dee described everything to the emergency dispatcher. The sound of the men breaking into a nearby apartment where they assaulted and robbed the man inside. What they looked like as they ran back outside. What they were wearing as they fled. The car they sped away in. The direction they took.

Within minutes, Tampa police were on the scene. The critical information and precise details that Dee observed and related enabled them to capture the men – suspected of multiple similar robberies – less than an hour later.

By 4:30 a.m., Dee was downtown at police headquarters giving her eyewitness statement, and several months later, she was called to provide a deposition.

Unexpected recognition

"It was a wild night, and I was definitely scared at the time," says Dee. "My adrenaline was certainly pumping. But I knew what I had to do so I just focused and did it."

In recognition of her outstanding service to her community, Jane Castor, Chief of the Tampa Police Department, presented Dee with a "Citizen Appreciation Award" during a public ceremony.

The award reads:

"In recognition of your keen observation skills and quick thinking which led to the arrest of five armed robbery suspects. Alert citizens like yourself help police reduce crime and improve the safety of Tampa's neighborhoods."

Saint Leo core values in action

"There are times when it's not so difficult to live by Saint Leo University's core values, and there are other times when it's difficult," says Dee's manager, Associate Director of Operations David Ososkie. "For Dee, this was one of those times it was difficult. But instead of being scared and running, she stayed committed to doing the right thing."

Doing the right thing – and the importance of integrity – is a value Dee has instilled in her own children and tries to instill in every young person she mentors.

"I tell them that you have to have integrity in everything that you do. That means being committed to the things that are important in life. Starting what you finish. It also means treating others the way you want to be treated. That's what I bring to my job every day…

"Integrity – and a smile!"

Congratulations, Dee!

Image Credit:  Courtesy Dee Austin

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