Criminal Justice Program Takes Broader View
Viterbo University has updated its criminal justice program for the 2019-20 academic year, so much so that it needed a new name: criminal and community justice.
As the new name makes clear, “community” is a major emphasis in the program. While the program does focus on how police can be proactive and develop trust in the community to promote public safety rather than just react to crimes, it’s not just about how police officers relate to citizens.
“The program focuses upon how the community works together to maintain safety,” said Marlene Fisher, the department chair. “We don’t just focus on the criminal but also look at how individuals in the field of corrections, lawyers, judges, and police all work together for safety while also providing a system of justice for all, including victims.”
Four times as many people are incarcerated in this country today than were locked up in 1980, and there is an increasing recognition nationwide of the high cost of maintaining that inmate population. States are moving toward providing an array of programs that take a new approach to public safety, breaking the cycle that fills the country’s jails with nonviolent offenders.
“We wanted a program that reflects the trends and needs of the 21st century while also including the values we have at Viterbo—contemplation, hospitality, service, integrity, and stewardship,” Fisher said. “This program has a strong focus on strengthening ties in the community and on how community agencies work together to maintain community safety using a best practices approach to offenders and victims of crime.”
Viterbo faculty member Ryan Anderson took the lead in evaluating university programs across the country and internationally as part of the program update. The key to the new approach is an emphasis in law enforcement of being a part of the community, rather than treating everybody like suspects, Anderson said.
“Many times, police can handle a situation before it becomes a major problem or an actual crime, but they really need to be part of the community to make that work,” Anderson said.
Servant leadership is one of the cornerstones of the criminal and community justice program at Viterbo. “One new course, Working with Communities, has servant leadership and ethical components to give students the skills and abilities to provide strong ethical leadership in the community,” Fisher said.
As with other Viterbo programs, the criminal and community justice program gets students into the community—in internships, service programs, and experiences in the field—so their education goes beyond classroom academics. Students also can opt for an internship in the police academy at Western Technical College, a key step in becoming a certified Wisconsin law enforcement officer.
Andrew Kyle, a criminal and community justice senior from Neillsville, has notched about two years of hands-on experience with the La Crosse Police Department during his time at Viterbo. He appreciates the emphasis on community, both at Viterbo and the LCPD.
“You’re dealing with people who are angry or upset, and you just have to make sure they get the help they need,” Kyle said. “We really focus on that community aspect. Making people feel at home and comfortable, so they’re always willing to come and talk to you.”