Officer hopefuls training at MSP’s Junior Detective Academy in Niles

Published 7:38 pm Wednesday, July 14, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A Junior Detective Academy offered through the Michigan State Police Niles Post 53 is giving high school students a hands-on look at what it is like to be a police officer.
The intensive and interactive five-day curriculum is allowing nine students from around the area to get to know the ins and outs of the profession by performing mock crime scene investigations, using polygraph tests and practicing the proper way to lift fingerprints from evidence.
The academy, which is being held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day this week, is taking place at the Niles Law Enforcement Complex.
Michigan State Police Trooper Robert Herbstreith, who helped design the curriculum with Det. Fabian Suarez, said the goal of the academy is to offer a variety of lessons to show what police work is really like.
The two also want to disprove many of the stereotypes that go along with being a police officer.
Herbstreith, who is also a school liaison officer and crime scene technician for Michigan State Police, said the program was specifically tailored to students with a strong interest in law enforcement.
Recent Niles High School graduate Dustin Sullivan, 18, has wanted to be a police officer all of his life and said the academy has been an exciting experience to prepare him for a future career.
Sullivan, who would eventually like to be a part of a SWAT team, will be going on to the police academy at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in the fall.
Suarez' daughter, Valerie, 16, is one of the junior detectives and actually helped to get the program off the ground.
As an eighth grader, she attended a similar program geared toward younger kids with the Dowagiac Police Department.
Valerie, who also plans to pursue a career in the law enforcement field, enjoyed the Dowagiac program and kept asking her father when something similar would be offered for older students.
After a couple of years of throwing ideas around, Suarez and Herbstreith developed a curriculum and recruited students with a genuine interest to be the guinea pigs for the first year of the academy.
Valerie said the program has sparked her interest in law enforcement even more.
Herbstreith said the interactive lessons help to keep the students attention and gives them some firsthand experience they could not get anywhere else.
On Tuesday morning, the class began with an exercise about how entomology, the study of insects, can be used to help solve homicides.
Several pieces of liver were left outside over the weekend, so the students could study the effects that insects had on the decaying meat.
Flies, maggots, beetles and spiders were all found on the pieces of liver, giving different indications of how long each piece of meat had been outside.
On Thursday, the students will play the role of crime scene investigators as they collect evidence and try to develop a case from a mock crime scene set up outside of the complex.
The academy is also bringing in several experts to speak to the class including an entomologist for Tuesday's lesson, a forensic artist, Cass County prosecutor Victor Fitz and Berrien County assistant prosecutor Kelly Travis.
Fitz will be coming to the academy to discuss probable cause and Travis will be presented with evidence from the students' crime scene investigation exercise to determine if they have sufficient grounds for a warrant.
The free academy is also providing lunches to the students thanks to the generous contributions from Blimpie's, Subway, Harding's, Martin's and Milano Pizza.
Suarez is pleased with the academy thus far and would like to continue to offer the program in coming years.