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Robert O’Donnell graduates police academy, joins SPD

From left, SPD Lieutenant and tribal member Allen Colon, Assistant Chief Kevin Tyrie, Cadet and tribal member Robert Hunter O’Donnell, Sergeant Emily Malave and Police Chief John G. Auer at O’Donnell’s graduation in Fort Myers. (Courtesy photo)

Ever since he was a child, Robert Hunter O’Donnell always wanted to go into law enforcement. On June 23, the 19 year old fullfilled those aspirations when he graduated from the Southwest Florida Public Service Academy in Fort Myers.

He will join the Seminole Police Department.

“I want to support my community and tribe, keep the community safe and be an example to my younger siblings,” said O’Donnell, a member of the Panther Clan. “I want to be part of something bigger.”

A 2019 graduate of LaBelle High School, O’Donnell is the oldest of four siblings. His parents, Noella and Robert O’Donnell, and grandmother, Jenny Johns, attended the graduation, along with members of SPD.

“This is a great day for the Seminole Tribe to have another member in law enforcement for the SPD,” said Will Latchford, executive director of Public Safety, in an email.

O’Donnell becomes one of the few tribal members who have served in SPD over the years. According to Police Chief John Auer, O’Donnell’s service is unique not just to the tribe but to communities around the country who strive to enlist people from the community to represent them on the police force.

“It is an important tenet in achieving effective community policing,” Auer said in an email. “And that is very important to us at SPD.”

For the past decade or so, SPD has made opportunities to experience the police department available to tribal youth and adults with citizen police academies, youth explorers and internships through the tribe’s work experience programs.

O’Donnell is the second tribal member to join the ranks of the police this year. Brady Osceola Latchford, director Latchford’s son, is going through the police academy and then is expected to join the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office.

SPD has graduated interns, taken on mentoring roles and will soon restart its youth explorers program, with new Covid-19 safety protocols. The department will also make it easier for tribal members who live off the reservations to join the program. All of this activity is to encourage more tribal members to choose a path of public service in one of the tribe’s public safety programs.

O’Donnell exceeded all the requirements to be a police officer in Florida and has met the stringent guidelines of the SPD hiring process.

“He will now learn through training and experience how to hone his craft of police service delivery, while at the same time imparting his knowledge of culture and the tribe to his fellow employees,” Auer said.

Auer has no doubts in O’Donnell’s abilities to succeed as a police officer and said he “knows how to earn respect.”

“We are proud of Robert not only because he has shown the expertise and desire to dedicate his life to serve the tribe in a difficult job,” Auer said, “but because he is part of building the team that reaches the level of self-determination for the Seminole Tribe so that it continues to be successful for many decades to come.”

O’Donnell said he is confident in his career choice to join law enforcement.

“I want to be a person people can look up to and have a respectful and honorable career,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to help people and make a positive impact on the world.”

From left are Robert O’Donnell, cadet Robert Hunter O’Donnell, Noella O’Donnell and Jenny Johns at the graduation at Southwest Florida Public Service Academy in Fort Myers on June 23. (Courtesy photo)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at