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.
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“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.”
Meet these 28 notable UW-La Crosse alumni
Shelmina Abji, 1985, computer science
Dylan Bates, 1999, physical therapy
Barry Beaty, 1971, biology
Jason Church, 2011, political science
Russell Cleary, 1951-53, pre-law
Darryle Clott, 1966, English and history; 1971, masters of education
Barbara Gibson, 1978, physical education/teaching
Brian Gutekunst, 2016, sports management
Roger Harring, 1958, physical education/teaching
Amy Huchthausen, 1999, sports management
Theodore Knudson, 1960, general and physical science
Sandra Lee, 1983-85
Patricia Loew, 1974, mass communications
Truman Lowe, 1969, art education
Greg Mahairas, 1982, microbiology
Cynthia Marten, 1988, elementary education
Bill Miller, 2010, honorary degree
Hollie Nyseth Brehm, 2008, sociology
Jon Otterstatter, 1983, computer science
James Reynolds, 1977, political science
Andrew Rock, 2004, finance
Jennifer Shilling, 1992, political science
Barbara Skogen, 1967, medical technology
Patrick Stephens, 1971, education
Christopher Sund, 1987, political science
Dan Smyczek, 1993, political science
James Van Tassel, 1951, education
Sharon Weston Broome, 1978, mass communications
Did you know the director of "Rebel Without a Cause" and the first black American to compete in the Olympics both have ties to La Crosse?
These photos are filled with many familiar faces and places from our area's past.
WATCH NOW: Notable alumni of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
"Working closely with police officers allows one to gain unique insights into the world of law enforcement and the lives of police officers.”
Pete Marina, UW-L associate professor
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