From lattes to law enforcement: Officer Lee's commitment to service

Officer smiles as he approaches a desk at UC Davis Health in Sacramento
Officer Rickardo (Ricky) Lee patrols the UC Davis Health hospital in Sacramento with a smile.

From lattes to law enforcement: Officer Lee's commitment to service

By Michael Hsu, UC Davis Health
This article originally appeared on the UC Davis Health website.


SACRAMENTO — As in so many life stories, Rickardo Lee’s fateful encounter took place in a coffee shop.

One of 16 full-time UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD) officers serving the Sacramento campus, Lee can trace the beginning of his career arc directly to the Starbucks in the UC Davis Activities and Recreation Center.

Working as a barista one summer during his undergraduate years, Lee struck up a conversation with Benjamin McNulty, director of Aggie Host Security & Protective Services (AHS). McNulty was immediately struck by Lee’s enthusiasm, attention to detail and friendly demeanor toward all customers.

“There was this joyful spirit he exuded, combined with professionalism and various leadership qualities while working in a team dynamic,” McNulty recalled.

patient gestures toward police officer from a hospital bed
A patient in the Emergency Department chats with Officer Lee.

After a series of conversations in the café, McNulty was convinced Lee could succeed with AHS, which provides a variety of public safety services for the UC Davis community.

Lee, a psychology major with an emphasis in biology, soon became an AHS officer – and thrived.

During four years of staffing security at concerts and sporting events and driving people home through Safe Ride, Lee emerged as one of the top employees, advanced to a supervisor position and excelled as a specialist program manager who continually sought to improve AHS and the entire Police Department.

“The department was like my second home,” Lee said.

Even as his responsibilities grew, he continued to show an exceptional “genuine kindness,” in McNulty’s words. It was a quality that also impressed Dorothy Ha Uyen Hoang, the recruitment coordinator at UC Davis Health who supervised Lee when he was an undergrad intern on the MIND Institute’s MARBLES (Markers of Autism Risk in Babies: Learning Early Signs) Study.

“Ricky seemed to genuinely be interested in hearing about different perspectives,” Hoang said. “He was curious about the research we were doing and would ask about the background of some questionnaires that were administered; he would also engage in conversations with us just to hear about how our day was going!”

Lee’s natural empathy and curiosity have propelled him through every step of his career. In his senior year, he applied for UCDPD’s Cadet Program, which gave him a “small taste” of police academy life and a glimpse into law enforcement jobs. And thus Lee, who once considered going to graduate school with an eye toward neuroscience or behavioral research, pivoted onto a new path.

Finishing as one of the top two in the Cadet Program, he was awarded a scholarship to Sacramento Police Academy and slotted for a full-time position with UCDPD. After he graduated from the Academy in December 2018, he completed his field training in Davis and Sacramento…back at UC Davis Health.

Hoang, now a research coordinator, was surprised and delighted to see Lee working at a MIND Institute event. “We’re lucky to have him stick around and start his career in this new and exciting capacity,” she said.

The Sacramento campus is especially fortunate because of Lee’s recent experience – beyond the law enforcement perspective – interacting with students and diverse members of the UC Davis community. In one example from his field training, Lee was able to console a struggling student who shared his major and refer her to tutoring and other academic resources.

“When people call us, most of the time, they’re in a situation where they need assistance, or they’re not having a great day,” Lee said. “So then I just try to be a friendly face and make a positive impact on the situation. We help people where they need help.”

McNulty, the AHS director who recognized Lee’s talent early on, said he “could not be prouder” of him.

“Officer Lee represents the present and future of law enforcement,” he said. “I can think of no one more eager to listen to the needs of community members.”

officer stands with marked Police car door open
Officer Lee has been lauded as “the present and future of law enforcement.”