Crime Scene Investigation Not Just for Television: Parks and Police Team Up to Give Youth At-Risk a Positive Camp Experience
McCormick, Joel G., Vance, Morgan, Parks & Recreation
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.
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.
Session 2: The teens met with a special investigator from the Department of Inland Game and Fishery Department. This agent gave the teens an introduction to tracking, in which they learned how to gain information from the marks left behind by both animals and humans. The students used a sand pit created by the park and recreation department to study tracks and make plaster casts of footprints. Royal said the activity utilized methods that are often used if children are lost in the woods, but also to determine direction and path of movement.
Session 3: Members of the Virginia State Police Bomb Disposal Unit introduced the teens to a remote-controlled bomb robot. The troopers explained the dangers and the seriousness of dealing with explosives. The highlight of the session for the youth was when the troopers allowed the teens to operate the bomb disposal robot. "It's a real attention-getter," Royal says. "It's a sensitive device that the state doesn't bring out very often, so it was a real treat for the kids to be able to actually manipulate it."
Session 4: The teens were introduced to arson investigation. A member of the Fire Marshall's Office transported the teens into a fire scene arson investigation with a media presentation. The participants took photos to demonstrate the way in which evidence is collected.
Session 5: The teens used a metallic powder to uncover fingerprints. They also learned how to lift and preserve a set of fingerprints using the same method as investigators in the field.
Session 6: Teens were introduced to DNA. First the students designed a model of DNA using gum drops and tooth picks. Then they had to use simulated genetic markers (bar codes) to find DNA matches, similar to the methods scientists use in a lab.
Royal says each objective fosters different outcomes with practical experiences. "The kids got to go through these processes themselves," he says. "They got to learn tools of the trade as if they were going to be looking at a crime scene."
It was apparent by the participation in each session that the teens were enjoying themselves. And the teens were learning--they asked relevant questions and showed use of key problem-solving skills. As for changing attitudes towards the police, the camp made a giant step in the right direction.
"The positive side of the camp was that it gave the kids a chance to see the police officers up front," Royal says. "They got to know them. By the end of the camp, they were a lot more comfortable coming to me to talk about not only the camp but other things, as well."
At CSI Teen Camp, the police had a chance to be the good guys. They had a chance to be a teacher, a mentor and a friend to the teens. Since the CSI Teen Camp experience, attitudes have changed--the teens are not only happy to see the police, but they look forward to seeing them. The real indicator of success was the smiles on the officers' and teens' faces and seeing the high fives, the hugs, and the positive energy that radiated from the group. The experience has been positive for police, who have become familiar with the neighborhoods' youth on a personal level. With luck, this interaction will make a significant difference in neighborhood and police relations.
Resources to start your own CSI Camp Program:
First, contact you local police department. If the local police department has a crime prevention office that may be a good place to start.
Crime Scene Investigations: Real-Life Science Labs For Grades 6-12 by Pam Walker, Elaine Wood
Crime Scene Investigations : Real-Life Science Activities for the Elementary Grades by Pam Walker, Elaine Wood
Crime-Solving Science Projects: Forensic Science Experiments (Science Fair Success) by Kenneth G. Rainis
The Forensic Casebook: The Science of Crime Scene Investigation by Ngaire E. Genge
Crime Science: How Investigators Use Science to Track Down the Bad Guys by Vivien Bowers, Martha Newbigging
Crime Lab Chemistry: Grades 4-8 by Jacqueline Barber
HELPFUL WEB SITES:
Zeno's Forensic Site http://forensic.to/forensic.html
Carpenter's Forensic Science Resources www.tncrimlaw.com/forensic/
The Virginia Crime Prevention Association www.vcpa.org/…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Crime Scene Investigation Not Just for Television: Parks and Police Team Up to Give Youth At-Risk a Positive Camp Experience. Contributors: McCormick, Joel G. - Author, Vance, Morgan - Author. Magazine title: Parks & Recreation. Volume: 41. Issue: 3 Publication date: March 2006. Page number: 60+. © 2009 National Recreation and Park Association. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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