Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Criminal Justice Club competing in Grand Rapids

12/11/2014 - 2pm

Southwestern Michigan College’s second-year Criminal Justice program debuts in competition spring semester.

On their day off before finals, CJ Club students convened Dec. 9 in Mathews Conference Center West on the Dowagiac campus to hear Cass County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Johnson’s presentation on force at the heart of events in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., and Mesa, Ariz.

“I don’t blame people for being concerned,” Johnson said. “When somebody dies, we should all be concerned with why it happened and if it was reasonable. Use of force is the only report you write as a police officer that you actually put in your opinion because what you saw and perceive is important” under Graham v. Connor.

Program Director Don Ricker’s students are preparing for the SkillsUSA Michigan criminal justice championship and crime scene investigation regionals Feb. 15 in Grand Rapids.

The five-part criminal justice contest totals 1,000 points: the Criminal Justice Knowledge Test (100-question multiple choice), 100 points; a pre-employment interview, 200 points; scenario one, 300 points; scenario two, 200 points; and a traffic stop/warrant arrest, 200 points.

For the second scenario, students respond to an unknown non-felony incident — domestic situations, runaways/missing persons, malicious destruction of property, larceny, auto theft/car jack, neighbor disputes, simple assault, retail fraud, death notifications or animal complaints.

For the traffic stop/warrant arrest, students are evaluated on officer safety, presence, professionalism, effective communication, radio traffic, handcuffing, contraband and post-arrest technique.

SkillsUSA, formerly VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America), is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to insure a skilled American workforce.

“Western Michigan University is in our group. So is Grand Valley State,” Ricker said. “Ferris is in a different region, but we do have Kalamazoo Valley, Grand Rapids Community College and Lake Michigan College. It’s a really tough region. The winner usually wins state and competes at nationals.”

SMC’s CSI team demonstrates knowledge of constitutional law governing search and seizure; communication skills; interpersonal skills; ability to work together as a team to conduct a systematic crime scene investigation; crime scene photography; properly search for, handle and collect physical evidence; complete a crime scene sketch; and obtain fingerprints.

Contestants get 30 minutes to process the scene, another half hour to write their report and 30 minutes to take a written test over the book Criminal Investigation by Wayne W. Bennett and Karen H. Hess.

In 1989’s Graham v. Connor, a diabetic problem was mistaken for drunken resistance.

An officer’s force should be applied in the same basic way that an “objectively reasonable” officer would in the same circumstance.

The Supreme Court ruled the key factor in applying force is the threat officers and others at a scene face.

“These are split-second judgments in rapidly-evolving situations,” Johnson said. “You have to deal with situations as they unfold.”

Johnson played a clip of a 2003 stolen-vehicle chase in Shreveport.

It appears to end when police gun down an unarmed man, but footage from another squad car at a different vantage shows the suspect pointing his silver cell phone like a gun while fleeing.

“I’ll wear a camera if they want,” Johnson said, “but cameras show a certain point of view, not the totality of the circumstance or the mind of the officer or the subject.”

Another landmark case, Terry v. Ohio, held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is not violated when a police officer stops a suspect on the street and frisks him or her without probable cause to arrest if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime and believes the person may be armed and dangerous.

Besides 25 years as an officer, including 18 with the Sheriff’s Office, Johnson is a former police chief.

“The one thing I see in your generation I want you to know about is talking to people,” Johnson said. “Your generation is so filled with technology you’re getting away from speaking face to face. When I graduated from police academy in 1983 in both law enforcement and emergency medicine, it was very hard to get a fulltime police job. I worked fulltime on an ambulance and part-time police. Going back for my bachelor’s degree, I worked retail security for Meijer. In retail security, you don’t have a gun or Taser, just your voice and ability to negotiate. Work on your interpersonal skills.”