03/21/04 — Public safety course

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Public safety course

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Published in News on March 21, 2004 2:03 AM

A distraught husband calls 911. Within minutes, sheriff's deputies arrive to find a woman has been stabbed many times. EMTs determine she is dead. So far, it is all in a day's work for Wayne County public safety professionals.

Then the detectives arrive. With reactions ranging from "eeewwww" to giggles, 29 investigators-for-the-day got their crack at solving this crime and figuring out an even tougher mystery for teen-agers -- is this what I want to do when I grow up?

Southern Wayne High School students are enrolling in a new public-safety career program that will start this fall at their school. They will take courses taught by a Wayne Community College instructor and get both high school and college credit. In September, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction gave one of four $7,000 Carl D. Perkins grants to develop the program.

Beverly Deans, Duane Everhart and Rick Sutton, all law enforcement instructors at Wayne Community College, designed a mock crime scene recently to give students a look behind the yellow tape of a public-safety career.

The students were separated into three groups and led by Mount Olive Police Chief Emmett Ballree and Goldsboro police Detectives Chad Calloway and Seth Harris. The students began to scour the scenes for evidence, interview witnesses and suspects, and attempt to determine "whodunit."

In the living room they find the victim, Mrs. Lois Stromboli, played by a Resusci-Annie doll. She is on the sofa with wounds to her neck and upper body. One of the wounds contains the broken end of the weapon -- scissors, some students think, but they're not sure what they are allowed to think without proof.

"There are no assumptions in crime-solving," says Brittany Verner, a junior at Southern Wayne.

After they have been on the scene, a call comes in that a car registered to the victim and her husband, Willie, has been discovered nearby. It has been burned. The student detectives go to the scene. In and around the burned car are items they must consider in their investigation. Some take notes. Others take photos, and some make plaster casts of the footprints behind the vehicle.

Some of the groups encounter the press. Three reporters, including two with large television cameras that zoom in on what they are doing, ask questions while the junior detectives try to concentrate.

Then there are witnesses to interview, and they lead to suspects and clues. They encounter jealousy and sniping, blown kisses and flirting, offers to share in a mid-morning nip. They note the name Johnny B. Good, a man Mrs. Stromboli had befriended while he was in prison and who had been visiting the couple.

That clue leads groups to another site -- some with search warrants obtained by going before a judge played by Duane Everhart -- to talk to Mr. Good. By now, the students are working together as a team. As some students pepper the convict with questions, others take photos. A bloody jacket tucked under the bed soon becomes their focus. Someone lifts it with a pencil, "CSI" style.

After a morning of hard crime-solving, law enforcement professionals and amateurs, along with the witnesses and suspects, sit down together for lunch. Some continue to discuss the case. Others take a moment to reflect on the experience so far.

"I learned a lot," said sophomore Starus Dyson of Dudley. "A lot of work goes into solving a crime. People lie; you have to learn how people react and act. You need to be very observant."

"It is so easy for us to be sitting at home, watching TV and say, 'she's guilty' or 'he's innocent.' Now we know it's not that easy," said Brandon Oates, a junior from Mount Olive.

After much guessing by the students, the real killer was asked to step forward. Johnny was their man. His motive? "He just went crazy," said instructor Rick Sutton.

As for the course this fall, it will be accompanied by as many practical exercises as possible, promised Sutton. He plans to include field trips, guest speakers and lots of hands-on applications.

The project will have a dedicated classroom, and public school officials hope to provide the textbooks, the same ones used by community college students.

Prospective students must have a grade point average of 2.0, no criminal background, a satisfactory score on the college's Reading Placement Test, be at least 16 years of age, and be a rising junior or senior. After high school graduation, the students may enroll at Wayne Community College and continue pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice technology.