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January 18, 2013

Cops in the making

Students investigate aspects of criminal justice careers

Sheldon Corcoran, 17, placed his left hand on a Bible and raised his right hand, as directed by the teenage bailiff, who occasionally stumbled over pronouncing “perjury.”

Corcoran was preparing for the part of Officer Ward in a mock courtroom his instructor, D. Bruce Jordan, organized for the criminal justice class at Century Career Center.

Three classes of just over 20 students each started this fall in the career center’s newest career pathway. Jordan, a 33-year veteran of the Indiana Department of Corrections, developed the criminal justice program at Kokomo’s career center before being tapped to teach the Century classes.

“We had a lot of student interest starting out,” Jordan said. His students come mostly from Logansport, but also hail from Pioneer, Lewis Cass and Caston high schools.

Speaking to a group of prospective career center students, Jordan described what the year-long survey course covers: state and federal court systems; corrections, including the jail and prison systems; parole and probation; and homeland security and terrorism.

The 1 1/2-hour class also translates to six college credit hours through Vincennes University. It’s to lead into another class in the sequence starting next year, when the second class will focus on police science and will qualify for three to six additional dual college credits through Vincennes.

About 40 students have already expressed interest in continuing to the second class, according to James Little, the career center director.

Studying homeland security is relatively new to the criminal justice curriculum, Jordan said, but people with a criminal justice background have found extensive career opportunities in the federal department.

“The law enforcement sections of that — the TSA, the border patrol, ICE — those are very, very well paid, federal jobs,” he explained.

But even on the local level, jobs exist for students with just a high school diploma or limited post-secondary education. High school graduates may start out as police officers or corrections officers, said Jordan.

“To progress up the ladder in those types of law enforcement agencies requires some type of post-secondary education, and most departments, unless they’re tiny, help their officers financially,” he added.

Some of the students in Jordan’s class have known for some time that they wanted to be police officers.

Connor Rominger, an 18-year-old senior at Logansport High School, said he had been inspired by his aunt and uncle, both police officers.

“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer,” Rominger said. “I just figured I’d get a head start.”

He took the part of the defense attorney in the class’s mock trial, in which the defendant, a part taken by 18-year-old Zach Arnett, is being charged today with the murder of a young woman.

Arnett said being the defendant “stinks,” since “everyone’s against me.”

“You pretty much have to remember the whole night that something happened,” he said. For the purposes of the mock trial, that means memorizing the facts laid out on his character sheet well enough to brave a close cross-examination on the witness stand.

But the class — where students have learned to take people’s fingerprints as well as lift fingerprints from a crime scene, and practiced using mechanical restraints, like handcuffs — has also taught Arnett that there’s more to law enforcement than arresting people. For instance, he said, there are nine specific steps to carrying out a crime scene investigation.

And it’s helped him confirm his plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the field, starting out at Ivy Tech before heading to Bethel College in Illinois.

Like Arnett, most of the criminal justice students plan to become police officers, though a few want to be attorneys, said Jordan.

Rominger may want to be a cop, but he said being defense attorney for the mock trial was his first choice.

“There was some extra credit with it, and I just like how this whole process works,” he said — digging through testimony and evidence and finding what would help the defendant.

But he’s been surprised by the vast number of crimes people could be charged with.

“The entire legal system is just incredible,” said Rominger.

As the students rehearsed Thursday for the mock trial — substituting “blah-blah-blah” for their real questions and answers, so as not to give away their lines of argument before the “real” mock trial to take place today — they mixed in plenty of humor with the strict by-the-book phraseology and courtroom etiquette.

“We the jury find the defendant innocent of the murder of what’s-her-face,” said one student to close the rehearsal.

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.

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