Academy gives students crime scene experience


Staff Writer

What gave away the fact that this was not your typical crime scene?

It might have been the "not quite law enforcement haircuts" or the absence of squad cars and flashing lights.

Other than those missing elements, the area cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape at Central Union High School in El Centro on Wednesday certainly had most of the flavor and nuance of a crime scene.

Students enrolled in Central's legal services/law enforcement academy were participating in a mock crime scene investigation on school grounds.

"The program works as a school to career unit so they (students) know what to expect with a career in law enforcement," explained El Centro Police Department Detective Sgt. Theresa Quinn as she stood to the side watching the students go to work.

Students are divided into small groups and each group works with a detective from the ECPD who guides the students through the mechanics of investigating a crime scene.


While one group of students closely questioned a Central staff member who had been pressed into service as the "victim" of a supposed burglary, 16-year-old junior Francisco Cano, acting as a crime scene analyst, took photos inside the mock "residence."

"This course is really interesting because you can actually learn firsthand stuff about a future career," Francisco said as he hunched down to take close-up shots of broken glass and a partial footprint. "I want to be a criminal psychologist."

Working with him was another 16-year-old junior, Trevor Williams. Trevor was busy analyzing where best to place yellow evidence number tags at the scene.

Trevor's verdict on the course was, "This is really fun — and educational. There's a lot more to it than I thought."

A three-year course, the academy is funded at the state level by California Partnership Academies and has been in place at Central since the 1997-98 school year.

The academy course contains specialized classes geared to law enforcement — English, history, science, biology and technology classes.

Mike Corey, the academy's science teacher, is clearly enthusiastic about teaching the course.

Corey explained how in biology class, the students will analyze synthetic blood samples or examine a fingerprint lifted from the crime scene under a microscope.

"We look at all the evidence from the point of biology, chemistry and physics and we really stress writing and communication in this course," Corey said.

Saying that many students who take the course go on to major in criminal justice at Imperial Valley College and others use it as a stepping stone to a military career, Corey said, "What we've seen over the years with many of the students is that they gain in self-confidence and discipline through being involved with the program.

"I really enjoy teaching this course as a lot of the time kids will ask me, ‘What has biology got to do with what I'm going to be doing in life?' and this way we can say, ‘Look, it's going to be used here, it's going to be used there.' It's skill and knowledge they can use."

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