In 1991, when Sue Riseling became police chief, University Wisconsin Police Department only had a handful of computers, still took polaroid pictures and had several officers who carried revolvers in their holsters.
A lot has changed in 25 years.
— UW-Madison Police (@UWMadisonPolice) February 19, 2015
While technology and the generation of students that have passed through the university’s doors have evolved, so have the challenges the institution faces. Riseling said UW is facing more challenges at a higher rate now than ever before.
One of the biggest challenges UW faces as an institution now is the level of incivility that has gone beyond being simply rude. It is a level that has become criminal and physical in the area of sexual assault, Riseling said.
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With the recent series of racial and religious bias incidents, whether or not they are due to a complete ignorance, Riseling said these incidents all start with the fundamental lack of respect for other people and how they think or feel.
In the case of sexual assault, people have taken this lack of respect even further by not listening to someone when they say no, or by taking advantage of someone when they are passed out, she said.
“I think we will continue to face the sexual assault challenge, I think it is very difficult for survivors and it is very difficult for the university to figure out how … to reduce the amount of sexual violence going on,” Riseling said.
But this notion of respectfully listening and understanding the multiple sides of a problem is still something people struggle with today, she said.
In her book, “A View From the Interior: Policing the Protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol,” Riseling considers the value of freedom of speech from her experiences policing the Act 10 protests.
Riseling said her book centers on the value of freedom of speech and how people need to understand freedom of speech is more than just sharing their opinion, but about listening to others share theirs as well.
While freedom to express one’s own opinion sounds great, in practice, the act is sloppy and can become physically violent, Riseling said. It is the police’s role to help facilitate an environment in which people can have an open discussion and be frank about the challenges others are facing.
Democracy is not meant to give one person’s voice over another person’s, it’s supposed to be a give-and-take in which a person is listening to what the other person has to say — not just waiting for their turn to talk, she said.
The police’s role is to keep an environment in which all of those things can happen and to ensure that environment does not breakdown so people can keep doing what they need to, Riseling said.
“We set the table, but we don’t eat the meal. Folks have to eat the meal — we are there to ensure that everyone can do what they need to do in a way that results in no one getting physcially hurt,” she said.
Though Riseling said the police may create a physically safe environment, it is difficult to create an emotionally safe one. It’s hard for police to try to prevent people from using hurtful words because it is not up to them to regulate what people say, she said.
— UW-Madison Police (@UWMadisonPolice) March 11, 2016
Riseling stressed the importance of creating a nonviolent environment, not only on campus but around the nation. A safe environment would allow people to exchange ideas more openly and peacefully in hopes to invoke more positive energy among one another, she said.
As she looks back at her years at Wisconsin, one of the main reasons Riesling said she’s stayed in Wisconsin for so long is because of the students.
Since she’s been police chief, more than 220,000 degrees have been confirmed at University of Wisconsin — something Riseling said is “pretty cool.”
The students are what make the job fun, Riseling said. It’s fun to watch the various generations that have passed through this university and see what they will grow to become, she said.
“I think it’s a fun place to go to school and it’s a fun place to work, it’s been a really big honor to be police chief for this long,” Riseling said.