Criminal justice majors help police build community connection

By University Communications
August 23, 2014
Derek Mataczynski shows a girl the inside of a Menomonie police car during National Night Out on Crime.

Photo: Derek Mataczynski shows a girl the inside of a Menomonie police car.

Community service is part of most students’ undergraduate college experience. How many can say, however, that they made a lasting impact on the city where they went to school?

McKenzie Hazen and Derek Mataczynski are hoping that’s the case. During their final summers as University of Wisconsin-Stout students, they volunteered to help make Menomonie a safer community.

As interns for the Menomonie Police Department, they laid the foundation for a Neighborhood Watch crime prevention program. They also coordinated the police department’s first-ever National Night Out on Crime event.

Both initiatives could be around for many years to come. “Future interns can take all their work and build off it,” said Menomonie Police Lt. Todd Swartz, their supervisor.

Swartz called the students’ efforts “impressive and commendable.”

Hazen and Mataczynski, criminal justice and rehabilitation majors, along with UW-Platteville student Jennifer Niehoff, a Menomonie native, each worked about 20 hours a week this summer at the department’s main office on Stokke Parkway, on the city’s east side.

“The department has been very grateful. The chief was surprised how much progress we made on everything,” said Hazen, of Eau Claire.

Mataczynski, from Winter, called the internship “a very positive experience.”

Neighborhood Watch, National Night Out

Neighborhood Watch, part of a national program, had been tried previously in at least one city neighborhood, River Heights, but wasn’t active. Chief Eric Atkins had seen the program work well in Hudson and wanted to try it in Menomonie as part of a new department thrust to build community partnerships and increase collaboration.

Neighborhood Watch educates residents about crime prevention and encourages home and business owners, block by block, to keep an eye out for each other’s property.

The interns coordinated and led two Neighborhood Watch community forums in late July on the issue; created a brochure and pamphlet; and put information about the program on the department’s website, www.menomonie-wi.gov.

Swartz challenged the interns — Mataczynski started later in the summer because of Army ROTC training — to research other programs around the country. “They went online to virtually all four corners of the U.S. They did their homework,” Swartz said.

“Thirty to 35 percent of their time this summer was building this program from the ground up,” he added.

At the community meetings, residents expressed interest in establishing watch programs on their streets. “Some people go down to Florida for six months, and they depend on their neighbors to watch their homes,” Mataczynski said.

The National Night Out on Crime was held Aug. 5 at Menomonie Middle School. Although the community event has been held in cities around the country for many years, it was Menomonie’s first such event, the goal of which is to strengthen relations between police and residents, including children, to help prevent crime.

“The ground was broken for people coming behind us. Officers and other interns can pick up the event after we leave,” Mataczynski said.

The event included law enforcement vehicles that residents could see up close; police officers on hand to answer questions; a Humvee from the Army ROTC program at UW-Stout; and the Dunn County Mobile Command Unit.

A silent auction raised $400, half for the Dunn County Humane Society and half for Menomonie Middle School athletics.

A valuable experience

Although they put in hundreds of volunteer hours, the students say they also benefited. All three are seriously considering on-the-street police careers; previously they weren’t.

“It solidified what I wanted to go into,” said Hazen, who had been interested in the probation and parole area. “There’s definitely a tight-knit, family feeling on the force.”

Mataczynski will go into the Army as an officer for four years when he graduates. If he doesn’t pursue a longer military career, he would like to return to Menomonie to work on the police force and later become part of the regional SWAT team. “I want to plant my roots back here,” he said.

Hazen, Mataczynski and Niehoff were impressed with the camaraderie and friendliness of city police, administrators and staff.

“It’s like a big family, and they treated us like one of their friends. I don’t think they get enough credit for what they do,” said Niehoff, who will graduate in December from UW-Platteville in criminal justice. “They are some of the nicest people I’ve met.”

Hazen and Mataczynski also hope to spread the word about Neighborhood Watch this fall at UW-Stout, where many students live off campus.

“It is one of our goals to get the information out to the students so that they can better protect themselves to reduce crime and create a safer and more welcoming place throughout the year. A lot of students are gone for the summer; that means their apartments or houses are more vulnerable to burglary,” Hazen said.

Hazen’s internship was her second with Menomonie police; her first one was last fall. She also volunteered in the spring and will continue to volunteer with the department until May 2015. She helps the department download and store traffic-stop videos from officers’ squad cars.

As part of their internships, students each had ride-along experiences with officers on duty, spent time job-shadowing in the Dunn County Jail and helped transport squad cars for maintenance so officers could stay on duty.

“We treat the interns like part of the staff. We trust them enough to give them the keys to a squad car,” Swartz said.

For more information about the criminal justice and rehabilitation program at UW-Stout, go to www.uwstout.edu/programs/bscjr