Southwestern Michigan College Educational Talent Search’s 12th annual CSI Academy culminated June 30 at Dowagiac Conservation Club with the SWAT-like Cass County Warrant Service Team (WST).
Twenty middle and high schoolers watched shooting demonstrated with AR-15 rifles and Glock 22 .40 caliber pistols, explored the up-armored, turreted Hummer, maneuvered “throbots,” handled tactical gear and petted Tole (toe-lee), Dowagiac Police Department’s German shepherd.
After busing to Pizza Hut for lunch, junior detectives continued to Cassopolis to tour the Law and Courts Building and dispatch center and to meet Judge Susan Dobrich.
Campers learned to process crime scenes, including fingerprints, impressions and blood spatter, June 28-29 at Mathews Conference Center on SMC’s Dowagiac campus with Officers James Kusa and Matt Behnke.
Don Ricker, whose SMC criminal justice students swept SkillsUSA’s State Leadership and Skills Conference in Grand Rapids for the third straight year April 7-9, also participated.
“Our objective when we get called out is to not have to fire a round,” Sgt. Dan Wiggins said. “Statistically, SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) or tactical units like ours (WST) or Berrien County’s TRU (Tactical Response Unit) fire less rounds than standard police officers in high-risk engagements. We’ll use verbal tactics or a flashbang (stun grenade) to scare people. When we go to a house, we have 10 or 11 fully-equipped guys. We show up when they least expect us and wake people up!”
Wiggins inventoried equipment, starting with a bullet-resistant helmet and a 30-pound vest carrying a flashlight, gun magazines, flashbangs (or NFDDs — noise/flash diversionary devices), a trauma kit, smoke to create cover crossing open spaces, a radio, water in a CamelBak hydration pack and a gas mask if they need to “introduce chemical munitions” to flush out suspects.
Some devices, such as camera-containing “throbots,” are lobbed by hand, others with a projectile launcher.
The team carries Halligan tools like firefighters use (Wiggins’ “break-and-rake” looks like a partial grappling hook with a snow-shovel handle), a battering ram, night-vision binoculars, an orange shotgun firing beanbag rounds, a ballistic shield and a CO2 fire extinguisher, which can also slow aggressive dogs.
“We customize what we carry and how,” Wiggins explained. “Officer (James) Kusa’s gun is high on his hip. We drop ours because of our vests.”
Wiggins demonstrates how infrared gear shows warmth, such as the black hood of the idling Hummer, as white.
“We can look for people in the dark,” Wiggins said. “The only problem with thermal images is that almost everything gives off heat. You’d be amazed how much heat a squirrel gives off when you’re trying to find a human. The difference between night vision and infrared is infrared is just shapes.”
Wiggins’ partner, Officer Kevin Roman, rides with Netherlands native Tole.
“His jaw pressure is powerful,” Roman said, hoisting the canine clamped to a chew toy over his head.
The canine drops Wiggins, wearing a heavily-padded protective suit.
Tole burst onto the local crime-fighting scene last summer, apprehending a 20-year-old Dowagiac woman July 21 in a traffic stop on Edwards Street.
Police recovered 17.6 grams of methamphetamine, heroin, two loaded handguns, knives and brass knuckles.
“If you guys get into law enforcement, light is key to identifying targets and a huge part of what we do. Light is your best friend,” Roman said. “Don’t go cheap on flashlights. That’s probably the best advice I can give.”
The multi-jurisdictional warrant service team, established in 2002, consists of three Dowagiac officers, seven Sheriff’s Office deputies and a Pokagon Tribal Police officer.
“Primarily, our duties are high-risk warrant service — somebody who’s wanted for murder or attempted murder, been violent or made threats on police officers. Most calls are drug-related,” Wiggins said.
CSI camp is sponsored by SMC, its federally-funded ETS program, Dowagiac Police Department, Cass County Sheriff’s Office, Cass County Family Court, Cass County Prosecutor’s Office and Burling and Gillesby dental office in Dowagiac.
ETS, directed by Kim Luthringer, assisted by Maria Kulka and Jewel Jones, is one of eight federal TRiO programs.
ETS, which operates year-round for 700 Brandywine, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Marcellus sixth-12th graders, develops good study habits and furnishes career, post-secondary education and financial aid information.
Yet this month there will be a Career Explorer Camp (July 10-14), a new Agriculture Science Camp (July 18-20) and a Fire Academy with Dowagiac Fire Department (July 24-28).
More than 475 U.S. programs serve more than 389,000 students.