Pharos-Tribune

May 1, 2014

Local teens learn about insects' effect on crime scenes

Advanced criminal justice class offers career exploration

by Mitchell Kirk Staff reporter
Pharos-Tribune

---- — A group of detectives huddled over a mass of decomposing flesh in an area cordoned off by yellow tape in the Berry Patch behind Logansport High School.

One held a magnifying glass and another was equipped with a flashlight to aid in the search for tiny insect eggs. Another investigator snapped photos while his colleague wrote observations down on a clipboard.

As the afternoon spring sun beat down on the scene, a scent filled the air that was slightly reminiscent of pork overpowered by the stench of decay.

The decomposing flesh was a hog’s head serving as a learning tool for the criminal justice students of the Century Career Center. The teenagers are making their way through a unit on forensic entomology, or how the growth and development of insects on a corpse can help an investigator determine an estimated range of time of death. Students enrolled in the program say it provides a hands-on and realistic introduction to careers whose appeal they first realized through film and television as they prepare to pursue post-secondary education.

Students called out observations to their teacher, David Jordan, as they hunted for eggs and photographed the scene. Some remarked on the increased appearance of shredded flesh, which Jordan suggested could be from crows. Other students discovered insect eggs in the hog’s eye and commented on the appearance of further bone exposure.

Jordan explained his students were looking for signs of the blowfly and its impacts on the carcass in order to estimate a time of death.

By tracking the growth of the eggs and the larvae, “you can work backward to determine the postmortem interval,” he said.

After returning to the classroom, one of Jordan’s students recorded temperatures from the last 24 hours into her computer. Jordan said this will affect the development rate of the eggs as well as the larvae after they hatch. After the eggs hatch and the larvae develop on the carcass, the students will collect samples from each development stage to observe under a microscope, all the while determining variables to plug into a formula that will reveal to them approximately how long the flesh had been exposed to the elements.

Jordan said his students are often first drawn to the field through popular television shows like “Criminal Minds” and the “CSI” franchise. And while he is glad students are interested in criminal justice, he said it is important for them to understand these careers glorified on the big and small screen require a comprehensive education.

“That’s great if you want to do that, but it takes science and math and English,” he said he tells his students. “And they don’t get it all done in 44 minutes.”

Brady Barber, a senior at Lewis Cass Jr./Sr. High School enrolled in Jordan’s criminal justice 2 class, said he was first inspired to find out more about the discipline from films and TV shows. He said he admires the hands-on aspect of the class’ curriculum.

“It isn’t just sit down and read out of the book the whole time,” Barber said. “Book work can get a little boring. This spices up the class a little bit.”

He added he plans to continue his criminal justice education after high school to pursue a career as an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

And while he likely won’t be searching for fly eggs in cadavers as a DEA agent, he said he is grateful for the learning experience across all aspects of the field.

“Even though I’m not interested in this per se, it still gives me an idea of what criminal justice people go through,” he said.

The career center is wrapping up its first school year with a second-level criminal justice class. Jordan said there are 22 seniors currently enrolled in the program, most of whom are going on to post-secondary programs or the military. More than 60 students have signed up for criminal justice classes for next year, he added, based on current enrollment figures.

Jordan said the popularity of the program at the Century Career Center mirrors the popularity of the field in the professional world, as there are a lot of careers to choose from. He added it is important the students consider post-secondary education or the military after high school, as many law enforcement jobs require applicants to be at least 21 years of age.

“This way, once they’re 21, they have the experience,” he said.

The variety of career choices is one of the factors that drew Pablo Morales, a senior at Logansport High School, to enroll in criminal justice classes at the career center.

“What we learn here is what it will be like after high school if we go into the field,” he said.

Reach Mitchell Kirk at mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130