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The new beat

Our men and women in blue — and gold

By Chris Jenkins

When Marquette University Police Department Officer Daniel Hernandez walked into the room, the woman burst into tears. She was caught shoplifting. Hernandez asked the store manager what the woman was trying to steal. When he heard the answer — diapers — he figured there was more to the story. Hernandez talked to the woman and learned she was out of money and needed diapers for her son. Instead of writing a ticket or transporting her to jail, Hernandez drove her to a local shelter to pick up a pack of diapers and a list of other resources available in the community. “I think we look at the totality of the circumstances,” Hernandez says. “Is she going to learn from me citing her with a retail theft citation for whatever amount? Or is she going to be appreciative and understand: ‘OK, I can’t do that, I have a list of resources where I can go for help and I really appreciate what the police did for me.’ I think that’s the better route.”

Hernandez is working a new police beat, one formed after a year of planning and training of officers. Marquette’s former Department of Public Safety became a commissioned police force in May 2015.

Campus and the surrounding area are now patrolled by sworn police officers who are able to write tickets and make arrests. But MUPD officers spend far more time building relationships and diffusing situations by talking to people.

“I think when you look at the daily activity of a police officer, it’s not mostly writing tickets and it’s not mostly arresting people,” says MUPD Chief Paul Mascari. “Those are certainly tools, and if something rises to the level of that, then we have those tools. But it’s about being seen. It’s about being a resource. We’re out there for the community. We want people to be comfortable asking a police officer for assistance.”

Mascari notes many of the department’s newly sworn officers worked in the Department of Public Safety well before it became a police department. “They know the culture of the university. They believe in the mission of Marquette,” he says. “They believe in our guiding values. Yes, they sometimes have to write a ticket or sometimes they might have to arrest somebody, but they have a great deal of discretion. We know that we just can’t arrest our way out of a lot of problems. It takes a community to solve those problems. If we’re seeing an issue, we want to work with the community to solve that issue.”

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Commissioning a department

Marquette leaders began considering establishing a commissioned police force after former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle’s 2007 Task Force on Campus Safety report recommended that private universities and technical colleges should have the option to employ sworn police officers, as do state public universities. In 2014, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill allowing Marquette to create a university police department.

But before moving forward Marquette sought feedback from students, faculty, staff and community members, along with local law enforcement and state government agencies. In January 2015, President Michael R. Lovell made the decision official.

Mascari and 18 officers were sworn in May 1, and another 17 completed the state-mandated 520 hours of training during the summer. The new safety efforts build on an already existing infrastructure that includes 700 video cameras, 450 Blue Light emergency phones located around campus and the neighborhood, and an advanced command center.

The biggest difference today is that officers are able to issue citations and make arrests themselves. “I think we’ve always said the biggest benefit about it is efficiency, the service that we can provide to the Marquette community,” Mascari says. “Prior to becoming a police department, our officers would respond to something, and then we’d have to wait for the Milwaukee Police Department to respond. So if it’s a busy night for the Milwaukee Police Department, it would take some time. That’s tying up their officers for a period of time. We don’t need to have that happen.”

MUPD officers have access to a computer system that tracks criminal background information. They now are authorized to make traffic stops — a significant step forward for pedestrian safety. “Those types of incidents are the ones that get people hurt,” says MUPD Officer Jennifer Shevey, who joined the department in December 2014. “We are getting out there, and we are doing some of those traffic stops. And people that had been zipping through some of these streets are now slowing down going, ‘Oh, I could be pulled over, too.’”

MUPD officers undergo a psychological review, medical evaluation and drug test. They are trained in homeless outreach, crisis intervention, and fair and impartial policing.

Mascari and his officers are very much in tune with national conversations about the use of force and racial issues in police work. “I think that again goes back to building relationships,” Mascari says. “I think a lot of problems that you see nationally may have been brought to the surface by a particular incident. But when you look at that, there were problems with the relationship to begin with. If a police department has a good relationship with the community, if a police officer has to use force, there’s always going to be accountability —there’s no doubt about that — and there should be. But I think there’s less of a chance to rush to judgment.”

The soft skills count

Zack Wallace, president of the Marquette University Student Government, says national controversies about policing are among the concerns he has heard from fellow students when commenting on Marquette’s transition to a police force. “Given national conversations on climate issues, topics of race and inclusion, that also was something that was raised,” Wallace says. “How is that going to be different? How are the connections between students and officers going to be different? I think that the officers have really taken a proactive stance on addressing those questions and going through a substantial amount of training.”

Hernandez, a U.S. Marine, served two tours in Iraq, his second tour as a sergeant leading a platoon. His duties there included meeting with village leaders with an interpreter, hearing them describe their needs and doing what he could to help with anything, from getting access to water to building schools.

Hernandez puts those soft skills to work on campus. Students occasionally shout his name to say hello when he is out on patrol. He was once called to unlock a door for a student, and the student asked Hernandez if he remembered citing him for a past offense. The student told Hernandez that he was suspended for a semester, which he used as a wake-up call to get his life in order. Now he was getting ready to graduate. “Yeah, that made me feel OK,” Hernandez says with a smile.

In 2012, Hernandez rescued two people from a burning bus. He also has helped talk people out of suicide attempts. “You just talk to them and get the Milwaukee County Mental Health Department or Marquette Counseling Center on the phone, just talk them down and you’re able to help them out,” Hernandez says. “That, to me, is fulfilling.”

Shevey worked in law enforcement for 27 years. She came out of semi-retirement for the chance to join Marquette’s department. “I’m here to protect and to serve,” she says. “That’s kind of what I was born to do.

“My daughter is college age, and some of her friends go to school here,” Shevey says. “So I interact with some individuals that I know, and being a mom of a 20-year-old, I know the mindset of college-age kids, and I can deal with them and I can speak to them like they are my own daughter.”

Wallace’s advice to fellow students? “Get to know the officers. They’re all people, too, with families. They really are committed to making sure that you are safe and you have a positive experience at Marquette.”

A few fast facts

40 sworn police officers staff MUPD.

450 Blue Light Phones provide a 24/7 direct link to the MUPD Command Information Center.

MUPD provides safety programs, including free self-defense classes for students and staff throughout the academic year.

During academic breaks, MUPD offers the Vacant House Watch program to students residing in the near-off-campus neighborhood.

700 cameras on campus and in the near-off-campus neighborhood contribute to the extensive safety infrastructure.

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Comments

  1. None of the above accurately reflects how DPS was perceived by anyone I knew in my time at Marquette. They seemed to view the student population as a general nuisance, and put more effort into catching underage drinkers than doing anything about the frequent muggings on campus. With the exception of Pat Conlin, (that guy’s awesome) I never saw officers interacting with students in the friendly, relationship building manner described above. Its nice to hear they gave someone who couldn’t have afforded a ticket anyways a break for shop lifting from a business on campus, but how is this story at all relevant to the safety of Marquette students? Shouldn’t Marquette Police be boasting the relationships built with the Marquette community? The only positive student/officer relationship mentioned above regards a student who got in trouble and decided to turn his life around and you guys are patting yourselves on the back for that? You busted a kid for whatever, and on his own he straightened himself out and somehow the arresting office deserves credit? Seems like you’re setting the bar pretty low for yourselves.

    Also, just to make sure I’m not misspeaking here, but what exactly is the “state mandated” 520 hours of training? In 8 hour shifts and 5 day work weeks this comes out to 13 weeks of training. Milwaukee Police officers are subject to 16 months of probation and 23 weeks of police academy training. Why are Marquette Police only trained about half as well as Milwaukee Police? With all the nonsense you see in the news today it is disconcerting that we are comfortable replacing an existing police force with officers who were held to a lower standard of training. Am I crazy? Shouldn’t it take more than a summer to become a cop? I don’t know, I guess I just don’t see why we need to give Marquette the ability to hand out tickets and make arrests when their main objective should be to be a positive and reassuring presence on campus, which they have thus far failed to do.

  2. Seems like this was a decision to become a police force “just because” rather than any real need. Despite all of the assurances that proper training, etc has been done, does MU _really_ need a police force?

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