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2015 November 4 - 02:50 pm

Dual Enrollment Students Learn About Police Work

Iowa Criminal Justice Programs Lets High School Students Earn College Credit


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The scene that 17-year-old David Razo sketched was grim: A bloody footprint. Shell casings. And the lifeless body of a male who likely died from a gunshot wound.

Razo meticulously drew pictures of what he saw. Then he furiously wrote down everything he observed at the mock crime scene under the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway bridge, next to Des Moines schools’ Central Campus.

“I started out anxious, but then I was OK; it felt like I was at a real crime scene, trying to figure out what happened,” said the Des Moines East High School senior, one of 17 students enrolled in a new criminal justice program at Central Campus.

The program’s students are learning basics of crime scene investigations, including collecting, preserving and scientifically evaluating evidence. The yearlong program is worth 16 credit hours at Des Moines Area Community College.

It’s one way that Des Moines police leaders are looking to increase the number of young people, particularly minorities, interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement.

A Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/1RFKnHq ) review found that few of Iowa’s law enforcement agencies reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the communities they serve. Leaders in law enforcement say they recognize that the lack of diversity has hurt relations with minority residents and are searching for new ways to attract them to the profession.

Programs like the new criminal justice program may be part of the solution.

Des Moines school officials have looked for ways to expand offerings at Central Campus, which has programs in about 30 career and technical areas as well 35 Advanced Placement courses not offered at the district’s five comprehensive high schools.

The police department and school district worked together to develop the criminal justice program, something they say is not typically found in high schools.

Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert hopes that even if few students decide to become police officers, they all will have a better understanding of the profession.

“I don’t need to have everybody love our profession or love our police department,” Wingert said. “All I ask is that they understand it.”

In recent years, law enforcement officials nationwide have seen a drop in the number of people interested in becoming officers. Recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere have cast law enforcement in a bad light, further diminishing interest in the profession, they say.

Some agencies, such as the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which includes the Iowa State Patrol, are stepping up involvement in school career fairs in hopes of getting students interested in law enforcement. Last spring, for instance, the public safety department took part in a Waterloo middle school career day.

“We’re going to repeat that again this year at diverse schools,” department Director Roxann Ryan said at a recent NAACPsponsored summit. “We are introducing (students) to the department and talking about what kinds of things we do so that they understand what goes into policing.

“Getting kids interested in junior high, we hope it will pay off in the end.”

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa- Nebraska NAACP, echoed the need to get young people, especially minorities, interested in law enforcement careers.

She suggested a community college program geared toward “putting out police candidates” and supported the concept of the new Des Moines schools program, saying it could help “build trust and understanding in the community about police and what they do.”

The Central Campus criminal justice program is taught by retired police Capt. Kelly Willis and retired senior identification technician Greg Gourd. Both were with the Des Moines police department for more than 30 years.

“We want to turn these young people’s interest into a passion, and hopefully it will spark an interest in them to go into law enforcement,” Willis said.

Just as important is instilling a sense in the students of what it means to be a good citizen, he said. Many students don’t realize that if they are convicted of a simple assault or theft, they can’t be a sworn officer in Iowa.

“We’re constantly reinforcing citizenship and being a responsible member of society,” Willis said.

Spots in the program were filled soon after it was announced last spring, and it now has a waiting list. Eventually, district officials want to develop an Emergency Management Academy at Central Campus that would include the criminal justice program as well as courses aimed at careers in firefighting and paramedics, Willis said.

“We need people to learn how to do those things and make sure they are getting the right information,” he said.

Razo, the East student, learned about the new Central Campus program last spring from a forensics teacher.

“This is a great opportunity to expand my knowledge about forensics and to learn about it from experts,” he said.

Students will spend coming weeks in the class solving the mock homicide that was staged under the bridge. They will process DNA samples and study fingerprints found at the scene.

“This is just amazing,” said Brianna Miller, 17, a Lincoln High School senior. “I’ve wanted to be a crime scene technician for the longest time. This class is just making me want to do (go into the field) even more.”

Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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