Crime Scene Investigation Not Just for Television: Parks and Police Team Up to Give Youth At-Risk a Positive Camp Experience

Article excerpt

A police officer guards the area behind the crime scene tape, questioning witnesses as he backs them away. Inside the tape, the first officer on the scene works with the evidence technician to try to gather evidence that might lead them to the person that committed this burglary in the recreation center.

The scene sounds like an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation or a real-life burglary scenario, but there are no actors on the set and no actual crime has taken place. The police officers, investigators and witnesses are all teenagers role-playing at a park and recreation department-sponsored camp to learn about police and better acquaint youth with law enforcement.

Recently, the Youth and Neighborhood Summer Camps program in Lynchburg, Va., was having difficulty reaching teenagers with the usual recreation activities. In response, the city of Lynchburg's Parks and Recreation and police departments teamed up to find a way to interest inner-city youth with recreation while improving their attitudes toward law enforcement. The result was the formation of a crime scene investigation (CSI) program, where participants can work with police to learn how crimes are investigated. Program leaders are proud to say that it has been more than a success.

CSI Teen Camp was developed by Lt. George Royal of the Crime Prevention Unit of the Lynchburg City Police Department, a 24-year veteran of law enforcement, along with Mickey Ferguson and Joel McCormick of Lynchburg City Parks and Recreation. The idea for the camp came from the popular CBS television series, CSI. An exciting draw for participants of the CSI Teen Camp is that they get first-hand experience of many of the same techniques that are shown on the television series.

Teens are given opportunities to experience a number of crime investigation methods. They can drive a bomb-disposal robot, collect DNA and fingerprints, make casts of footprints, and most importantly, spend time learning from law enforcement officers.

Goals of the Program

The initial goal of the program was to improve the attitudes of inner city youth towards the law enforcement. In addition, the program intended to interest teens in the sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics and forensics. Participants developed problem-solving and critical thinking skills. And the overall mission was to provide an outlet for teens to have productive fun.

Royal says, "We were shooting for a chance to create interaction with law enforcement. I actually took it one more step by getting other sectors, like the fire marshal's office, involved. I wanted the kids to see other facets of law enforcement."

The goal of improving youth attitudes of law enforcement was critical. Because troubled youth often form their opinions of police based on experiences when someone has broken the law, they often form dislike for officers. However, developers of the CSI Teen Camp grasped the fact that while there was a negative attitude toward officers, many youth were also interested in what the police do.

Camp Structure

The camp was structured a little different than traditional forensic camps offered by high schools and colleges targeting "advanced" students. These camps are usually focused on academics and are normally conducted by teachers and professors. Because The CSI Teen Camp program was targeting potential at-risk youth, the emphasis was on changing attitudes toward law enforcement and building friendships. This was kept in mind through the camp's sessions which are detailed below:

Session 1: Police officers aided in reconstructing a robbery scene. The teens role-played as witnesses, police investigators, patrolmen and victims of the crime. The teens, supervised by police, went through the entire process of securing the crime scene, interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence. Afterward, the group processed the whole experience with the instructors and the police. …