Students learn about German criminal justice system and culture during education abroad experience in Brandenburg, Germany

September 10, 2013

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Forensic lab exercises under the watchful eyes of German police recruits (on right: criminal justice students Jordan Breunig, Alexander Marsh).

PLATTEVILLE, Wis.­­­ – Thirteen University of Wisconsin-Platteville criminal justice majors had the opportunity to live, learn and work with German police academy students and high-ranking police and government officials on the campus of the Brandenburg State Police Academy and College in Oranienburg, Germany.

Brandenburg is one of Germany’s 16 federal states, re-created when former West Germany and East Germany were reunified in 1990. The “Polizei Fachhochschule” provides basic academy training to new recruits as well as intermediate and specialized training for police officers. It also houses police units that can be mobilized quickly in an emergency. This German police college volunteered as a community partner, provided a platform for presentations and generously subsidized food, housing and transportation costs.

Sponsored by UW-Platteville’s International Programs and Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, the short-term, education abroad experience was organized and led by Dr. Sabina Burton, UW-Platteville criminal justice associate professor. Fluent in German and English, Dr. Burton also handled translation services. She was the first female accepted into the German federal police and possesses more than 20 years of international experience.

While in Germany, students had the opportunity to meet with the top brass of the state police of Brandenburg and Berlin as well as other police leaders. They visited the unit for national security matters and counter-terrorism in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the police headquarters in the German capitol of Berlin and the Brandenburg state Bureau of Investigation with their state of the art forensic labs, homicide units, SWAT team and cyber-security experts. Other highlights of the trip were a two-hour, private tour of a former East German nuclear bunker and missile site and barracks used by the former Wehrmacht and Soviet Army.

“This experience was life-changing for the students,” said Burton. “For some, it was the first time they had traveled outside the tri-state area. At the academy, students were teamed with German police students to learn about the German criminal justice system, including its history, methods of police training and forensic technology. By the end of the trip, many new friendships had formed.”

“The police college programs were designed to leave each of us well informed and curious to learn more,” said Alexander Marsh, a senior criminal justice major and business minor from Oak Creek, Wis. “One of my favorite days was touring the police headquarters for the state of Brandenburg, which contained the state's crime lab, tactical training base and chemical spill units. It was amazing to be greeted by the president of police for the state of Brandenburg. We were treated as foreign national dignitaries.”

Students learned how criminal justice and police science in Germany evolved over time, especially since World War II. “The German educators were very open about the country’s transition from the Nazi brutality and use of concentration camps during World War II to their current criminal justice system, which employs a highly legalistic approach,” Burton said.

“It was chilling yet compelling to realize that the Polizei had chosen such a place to train their current and future officers,” said Ronald Jacobus III, a 2013 UW-Platteville alumnus. “The staff gave us an admirable explanation – if not here, then where better to teach and warn people of the dangers that can come about from only following orders. I find it amazing and inspiring that rather than cover up past atrocities, the German people use their own 'dark' history to educate.”

Deborah Rice, UW-Platteville criminal justice instructor and advisor, and her husband Bill Kloster, director of the UW-Platteville Real Estate Foundation, assisted Dr. Burton during the trip. They both served in the U.S. Army and were stationed in Germany from 1982 to 1986 when a wall still divided Berlin. “To have the opportunity to stay on a police campus that was a former SS Camp/Russian and East German Army Camp was something we never thought we would experience,” said Rice. “Seeing a reunified Berlin was a joy.”

“Learning about each other’s systems was eye-opening for our students as well as for the German students,” said Burton. “They discovered that many of their perceptions about each other’s countries and people were inaccurate. Some of our students were surprised to learn that German police are highly trained in the de-escalation of force. Their rules for use of deadly weapons are very restrictive and differ in fundamental ways from U.S. rules.” 

“Throughout the trip, we emphasized appreciation for different cultures,” Burton continued. “This international educational experience created positive international relations and enhanced our students’ ability to gain state or federal jobs in the field of law enforcement. I hope to continue this experience on an annually rotating basis and have already begun planning to bring a delegation of German students here next summer.”

Students who made presentations on current topics in the U.S. law enforcement system and other criminal justice areas included Kendra Barman from Black Earth, Wis.; Eric Breitsprecker from Potosi, Wis.; Jordan Breunig from Sauk City, Wis.; Zachary Bruss from Appleton, Wis.; William Eichholtz from Byron, Ill.; Timothy Farrell from Blanchardville, Wis.; Samantha Joynt from Orangeville, Ill.; Corey Lee from Monroe, Wis.; Alexander Marsh from Oak Creek, Wis.; and Nathan Wendel from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Alumni Ron Jacobus III from Lakeville, Minn.; Michelle Merkovich from Union Grove, Wis.; and Kathryn Bundy from Juda, Wis.; also presented.

Dr. Burton gave presentations, in German, about cults and religious fanaticism, human trafficking in the United States, lone wolf terrorism, the investigation of serial crimes in the U.S. and the investigation of cyber-crimes.

Contact: Sabina Burton, UW-Platteville Department of Criminal Justice, (608) 342-1650, burtons@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Laurie A. Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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