Laura Rico Martinez didn't like police officers much when she was growing up in a rough part of Saginaw.

"The police would pull up and ask us what we were doing," she recalled. "It was never, 'How are you doing?' It was always 'What are you up to?' I didn't like that.

"As a kid, I had a bad attitude, but I wasn't a criminal," she said. "And they made me feel like a criminal."

It's why, years later, Martinez is one of the friendliest police officers around. As a Central Michigan University community policing officer, Martinez works in the area of campus responsible for the 2,800 students living in Saxe, Herrig, Woldt, Emmons, Celani and Fabiano halls.

She's out and about and logs about 21,000 steps a day being that positive police presence she missed as a kid.

She's caught students drinking or smoking marijuana, but she also is an encourager who checks to see how students are doing.

"My job is to get to know them. I love knowing them," Martinez said. "I know their moms and dads, their little brothers and sisters. They stop in my office to chit-chat about life. It makes me feel good that they love and respect me enough to do that.

"They see me as a person who happens to be a police officer."

Martinez originally planned to be a physical therapist and started classes at Delta College. But as a single mom, she needed a job, and the only one available through the work study program was with the campus police department.

Wary, she took the job and saw police life from the other side — officers were friendly and helpful.

After graduating from Delta's police academy, Martinez got a job at the Gladwin County Sheriff's Office and wanted to represent law enforcement in a positive way. She gave teddy bears to kids. She handed out McDonald's ice cream coupons

The Michigan Department of State Police named her Officer of the Year in 2008.

"I showed people I'm human," Martinez said. "People would say to me, 'I don't like cops, but you're OK.' I liked that."

But Martinez was the only female and the only minority in the department, and her family was one of just two minority families in the county. She missed diversity. When she heard CMU was hiring a police officer, she thought it might be a perfect fit.

"It fits my personality," Martinez says. "We're all about community here. I'm here to build bridges, get to know people. Law enforcement is to help people with what they need, not just for criminal stuff."

Martinez says she treats her students the way she'd like her own kids to be treated. She has six children: Elizabeth, 27; Valerie, 26; Robert, 24; Gabriel, 19; Brendon, 15 and Sophia, 10.

And her kids know that when mom puts on Latin music, it's time to either clean the house or have a family dance competition.

She and her husband, Manuel, both are certified Zumba instructors. So is daughter Valerie. They travel to the Zumba national conference in Orlando together every year to boost their skills.

Martinez often leads free Zumba classes on campus.

"You don't feel like you're working out. You feel like you're dancing, and I love dancing," she said. "It's even more fun with a room full of friends. Bring a towel and some water, and c'mon out and have fun with me."