Crime scene at Hinson Lake: Kids all in with hands-on investigation

Practicals offer training opportunity to which youth pay attention

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Previous coverage
* Junior Police Academy showers ‘police officers are human’

ROCKINGHAM — In June, Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly said a large part of the Junior Police Academy is showing the youth that “police officers are human.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Ashley Polston, 11, of Cheraw, S.C., takes photos of a staged crime scene Tuesday during a Junior Police Academy training exercise inside Rotary Lodge at Hinson Lake. In this case, the microwave served as a "safe" in which the suspect hid a firearm used in a convenience story robbery.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Ashley Polston, 11, of Cheraw, S.C., takes photos of a staged crime scene Tuesday during a Junior Police Academy training exercise inside Rotary Lodge at Hinson Lake. In this case, the microwave served as a “safe” in which the suspect hid a firearm used in a convenience story robbery.

On Tuesday at Hinson Lake, cadets learned just how strict the standards are for investigators on a crime scene. Standards that are beyond human and closer to perfect.

“Pay attention to where you put your feet,” says Det. S. Odom to one work group of cadets. “Pay attention to where you put your hands.”

It was a difficult lesson to learn on the second day of the weeklong Junior Police Academy.

One cadet stepped in what would have been blood inside a rest stop bathroom, the scene of a fight turned homicide. In this case, however, it was simply a puddle of red goo. Another cadet wasn’t aware that blood — and potential evidence — was on the handle of the restroom when he exited the room.

Those are the types of details investigators pay attention to in a real crime scene. On Tuesday inside Rotary Lodge at Hinson Lake, however, more than 50 cadets realized it takes nearly inhuman perfection to protect the integrity of a crime scene.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Cadet investigator Jan'nice Conrad, 13, of Rockingham, interviews a witness played by Det. S. Odom. Odom was, in fact, the culprit in the rest stop murder scenario - and Conrad and her fellow cadets didn't let him get away.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Cadet investigator Jan’nice Conrad, 13, of Rockingham, interviews a witness played by Det. S. Odom. Odom was, in fact, the culprit in the rest stop murder scenario – and Conrad and her fellow cadets didn’t let him get away.

Odom said the morning session consisted of class work that helped prepare the students, ages 11-17, for the afternoon practicals. One scenario was an armed robbery of a convenience store. A second scenario was an argument between two men that turned violent, then fatal, inside the bathroom of a travelers’  rest stop.

In the morning, the students were guided to photograph a crime scene, control the number of visitors to a scene, document and collect evidence and interview witnesses, among other tasks. Cadets learned to put evidence with liquids into breathable containers so the evidence wouldn’t grow mold.

The students were separated into groups of four to six people and took their turns at solving the crime. One group allowed the man who called 911 to report the fatal fight at the rest stop leave the scene without being questioned.

One cadet stepped in blood, which could have tainted the crime scene.

The detectives tried to make it obvious, but what was clear from the start was that once the students entered the scenario, they became a little nervous.

“They love the hands-on stuff,” said Det. S. Paxton. “You can preach to ’em all day long, but they love the hands-on stuff.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Julius Weatherford, 12, of Hamlet (center), and John Sewell, 15, of Rockingham (right) interview Det. D. Morton, who played the role of store clerk in an armed robbery at  a convenience store.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Julius Weatherford, 12, of Hamlet (center), and John Sewell, 15, of Rockingham (right) interview Det. D. Morton, who played the role of store clerk in an armed robbery at a convenience store.

Even when they made mistakes — and they did — they were learning. Jan’nice Conrad, 13, of Rockingham, learned so much last year she decided to come back this year.

“I thought it was amazing,” Conrad said of the friendly cadre and fellow cadets.

As a returning cadet, Conrad was appointed group leader for her team. Her group of investigators was among the first to collar the bad guy.

It was expected that the afternoon session would yield a higher degree of interest from cadets — it did — than the classroom work earlier in the day. Student interest was peaked.

“There will be a lot more questions that come from this” than the classroom work, Odom said.

On Wednesday morning, the cadets will practice casting and learn about SWAT procedures and equipment. After lunch, the students are expected to visit Assistant District Attorney Chevonne Wallace, Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. and representatives of the North Carolina State  Highway Patrol and the State Bureau of Investigation, along with Kelly.

On Thursday, the cadets will have an introductory class about illegal drugs, search warrants, criminal informants, street level deals and, later Thursday morning, visit the airport. Thursday afternoon’s sessions include a demonstration with the K-9 search and recovery at Ed Tull Park and a traffic investigation class.

The program ends Friday with a swim and cookout at Browder Park.

Upon completion of the program graduates receive certificates at the annual National Night Out event held on Aug. 5 at Cole Plaza in downtown Rockingham.

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