One of the newest members of the Vermont State Police is making history, by blazing what he hopes is a new path for immigrants and people who came to this country as refugees — such as himself.
"Whenever I put on the uniform, what's going through my mind is, 'I'm going out to help people,'" said Trooper Omar Bulle, who is assigned to the barracks in Williston.
Bulle, 25, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, and is a member of Vermont's Somali Bantu community. He is believed to be the first person to come here as a refugee to then wear the green and gold of the Vermont State Police, according to a member of VSP's command staff.
Bulle was 8 years old and spoke no English when his parents got word from the U.S. they and their kids could leave that camp.
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The family, displaced by violence and persecution, resettled in Burlington for a safe, peaceful life, where getting a good education was possible.
"I haven't felt like an outsider in Vermont," Bulle said in an interview this week, in which he expressed appreciation for community members who welcomed his family and others who came to Vermont as refugees.
A few years out of high school, a 2017 tragedy sparked an interest in law enforcement, Bulle recalled.
Another Somali family, refugees who were new to Vermont, lost their little boy when the Winooski River swept him away. He drowned.
Bulle and his friends provided critical interpretation services that day, so police could communicate with the distraught parents.
"And that's when I thought to myself, 'There's a gap between my community and law enforcement,'" Bulle told NECN. "More than anything, the reason I joined this profession is to make the people in my community feel represented."
Aiming to fill that gap, Bulle applied to VSP, which is known for its rigorous standards.
"He did very well in the academy," noted Capt. Julie Scribner, who heads the force's fair and impartial policing efforts.
Scribner's priorities include attracting more female and nonwhite recruits, as well as members of other underrepresented groups.
"That makes us serve the public better," Scribner explained.
Ali Dieng, an Independent serving on the Burlington City Council, is originally from Mauritania in West Africa.
Dieng pointed out new Americans can often have distrust or hesitance in dealing with law enforcement. He explained that aside from language challenges, immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers can struggle to understand how systems that are new to them operate in Vermont.
Therefore, Dieng said he is sure it would help to have more people from those groups take on visible community roles as school staff, firefighters, EMTs, elected officials or police officers — as Omar Bulle is doing.
"He's showing the new Americans or their children that, 'What I have accomplished as a refugee, you also can accomplish it,'" Dieng observed. "We all celebrate it."
Bulle delivered on his goal to make new Americans feel represented when nonfatal gunfire recently terrified mall shoppers in South Burlington.
The history-making hire was assigned to help evacuate people from lockdown, including a fellow new American he believes felt comfortable telling him what she saw and heard.
"I don't think she was going to be able to go up to another police officer and do so," Bulle said, adding that he believes he helped the woman remain calm in a highly stressful situation. "I think she came up to me because, 'Oh, I know this guy—he speaks my language.'"
The new trooper is still in field training alongside an experienced officer.
Bulle indicated that in time, he hopes he can play at least a small part in improving the way police interact with different populations they serve, perhaps helping show colleagues just how important it is to work toward understanding diverse perspectives.
While he may be the first from Vermont's Somali refugee community to put on the badge of the Vermont State Police, Trooper Omar Bulle certainly does not want to be the last.
"I hope to inspire more people," he said, explaining he wants new Americans to know a good career in police work is achievable for them.