A University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor is offering a new online course to help police officers recognize and respect human rights in their work.
Peter Marina teaches sociology and criminal justice at UW-La Crosse. He’s offering a four-week online course on ‘human rights policing’ to law enforcement officers for the first time this semester.
He came up with the idea for the class with his father Pedro Marina, who is a retired police officer and is co-teaching the course.
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“We thought that we could work together again with our experiences and do something to help out both the police and the larger community,” Marina said.
Marina said the course will cover the history of human rights and policing in the United States. The officers will read examples of real law enforcement scenarios and be asked what human rights they would apply in each situation.
Marina said officers will also be asked to make the same evaluation after watching videos from recent police shootings. He said the course will dive into the current critiques facing law enforcement.
“This class will address exactly what’s happened in Kenosha, what happened with George Floyd. We’re addressing all of those things. I’m not afraid to be controversial, I’m not afraid to be critical,” Marina said.
Marina said he’s already received a lot of interest in the course and heard support from some community members.
He said he hopes the course will expose police officers to different ideas than what they get in traditional police training.
“Police officers are under more and more scrutiny and I believe that if they protect the human rights of all individuals, of all people, especially while under that scrutiny, it could save their careers. At the same time, what’s also most important is that members of the community are protected as well,” Marina said. “There’s a structural problem going on with law enforcement in the United States. So we hope that human rights policing will become a model for policing that will save the lives of community members.”
He said officers from the city of La Crosse Police Department, city of Onalaska Police Department and La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department have enrolled in the course.
La Crosse Police Captain Jason Melby said five officers from the city’s department are taking the course. He said department leadership hopes the course will provide officers with a new perspective on the role of law enforcement and how it’s perceived by the community.
“The La Crosse Police Department is trying to be very thoughtful on our approaches to address some of the concerns and critiques of our department. And we believe and hope that this training can help maybe shed some more light on better ways we can do our job,” Melby said.
Melby said human rights is not a topic that’s covered in most law enforcement training. He said the department is hopeful the course will offer tangible changes officers can incorporate into their day-to-day work.
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