Posted 8 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022
UWL human rights policing course building compassion among officers
When Wisconsin Capitol Police Officer Andrew Hyatt crosses paths with someone who is homeless, he doesn’t see a person who is a problem.
He sees a person who has a story.
“Maybe some police officers are used to looking the other way when it comes to a problem that may be difficult to deal with, like a homeless person who needs resources and medical attention and all kinds of things,” Hyatt says. “For me, storytelling is something I'm really promoting to my coworkers: asking people how they ended up homeless or in and out of jail, where they came from, what their family was like, where they went to school. I think it gives them a new perspective and helps humanize us (as police officers), and certainly, hearing their stories humanizes them to me.”
Hyatt has always tried to take this approach in his police work, but it wasn’t until he took a human rights policing course led by UW-La Crosse Associate Professor Peter Marina that it really sank in.
The course, which Marina co-teaches with his father, Pedro Marina, a longtime New Orleans police officer, addresses systemic issues in policing by training law enforcement to uphold each person’s human rights. These include the right to life, liberty and security of person; and freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
“Human rights is a relatively new concept in human civilization, and upon closer inspection, a radical concept,” Peter Marina explains. “Unfortunately, human rights remain just that — a concept, rarely practiced throughout the world. This human rights policing class teaches police officers and criminal justice professionals how to apply human rights to their interactions with community members while conducting police work. I believe that human rights policing can serve as a harbinger of social change in a world that desperately needs it.”
In creating the course, Marina combined human rights values with his knowledge and firsthand observations of law enforcement. He has participated in dozens of ride-alongs with police, at all times of day.
Working with police officers in the classroom — this is Marina’s third year offering the course — has also provided many valuable insights.
The time Marina has spent researching for the course and interacting with police officers inspired his new book, “Human Rights Policing: Reimagining Law Enforcement in the 21st Century,” which will be released in August.
The book explores Marina’s intellectual pursuits, policing research and overall experiences teaching law enforcement to embrace human rights policing in the communities they serve.
"Working closely with police officers allows one to gain unique insights into the world of law enforcement and the lives of police officers,” Marina says. “My research with police officers and experiences teaching them human rights served as important paths to writing what I hope to be a book that inspires us toward a path where human rights can become a reality in policing, and perhaps, the world."
The course provides both research-based and experiential perspectives on human rights policing, and pushes participants to reflect on their experiences in law enforcement. Assignments are designed so participants can incorporate human rights policing into their daily work.
Those who have completed the course say they gained an improved perspective of police work, as well as a deeper understanding of why some communities are historically distrusting of law enforcement.
“I enjoyed being exposed to more information I wouldn't necessarily have searched out and read,” one participant said. “As a person who is pretty new to this career field, I think it is important to be immersed in as much information and different options as possible. This will make me a better correctional officer and person in general.”
“It has helped me to think about police contacts from the perspective of the subject,” another participant added. “I have attempted to understand what the subject may be going through and to utilize empathy to understand how they may feel during the contact.”
For Hyatt, the knowledge he drew from the course has led to more meaningful and productive encounters with people he meets around the Capitol. That’s the best way to build trust, he says — one positive interaction after another.
“We have the ability to use our human agency to make a difference, help that person out, change the culture within our agency and set a new tone,” he says. “It’s not an outlier that we want to help people. It’s something we can do and should do.”
Take the course
UWL Graduate & Extended Learning is offering the human rights policing course twice in the coming months: April 4-May 13 and June 20-July 29. To learn more or to register, visit www.uwlax.edu/ex/human-rights-policing.
About UWL Graduate & Extended Learning
Graduate & Extended Learning connects the university to the community by offering innovative educational opportunities including degree programs, professional development, youth programs, conference and event services, and test preparation.
For more information, visit www.uwlax.edu/gel.