Southwestern Michigan College Educational Talent Search’s 11th annual CSI Academy culminated July 27 at Dowagiac Conservation Club with the SWAT-like Cass County Warrant Service Team.
Twenty middle/high schoolers watched shooting demonstrated with AR-15 rifles and Glock 22 pistols, explored the bullet-resistant, turreted Hummer, maneuvered “throbots,” tried on tactical gear and met Tole (toe-lee) the German Shepherd.
After busing to Pizza Hut for lunch, junior detectives continued to Cassopolis to tour the Law and Courts Building and dispatch center.
July 25-26 at Mathews Conference Center on SMC’s Dowagiac campus, they learned processing crime scenes from Dowagiac officers Matt Behnke and James Kusa, who, as 16-year veteran Dan Wiggins likes to point out, at 39 years has been with the force longer than Wiggins has been alive.
Kusa leavens procedural lessons with wisdom from his vast experience, which the week before Dowagiac Rotary Club recognized by naming him a Paul Harris Fellow for community service.
“Evidence we collect in the real world we ship to the state police crime lab in Grand Rapids. Where DNA results take an hour on TV, it takes months,” Kusa said.
To impress upon budding investigators to “always look up” while cataloguing bones in a flower bed outside Fred L. Mathews Library, there is a rib dangling from a tree branch like a Christmas ornament.
Inside, not only is there a gun with the prone mannequin, but another inside a trash can.
Officer Kevin Roman, Tole’s handler, overnight completed his fourth shift with the Netherlands native.
Tole’s training before arriving consisted of bite instruction with a heavily-padded burlap sleeve.
“His jaw pressure is powerful,” Roman said. “He went to a vendor with trainers all over the state to learn obedience. We bonded right away (in May), then he trained on human tracking, going off crushed vegetation, scent cones and adrenaline. Tole does narcotics work as well. No vehicle is truly air-tight. Odors seep out.”
Tole burst onto the local crime-fighting scene, apprehending a 20-year-old Dowagiac woman July 21 in a traffic stop on Edwards Street near E. Division.
Police recovered 17.6 grams of methamphetamine, heroin, two loaded handguns, nine knives and brass knuckles.
Tole’s equipment includes a tracking harness, a training muzzle, a pinch collar, an agitation collar, a tracking lead and a medical kit in memory of a canine killed in the line of duty June 17.
“He turned 3 in April,” Roman said. “His service life should be six to seven years.”
Starks Family Funeral Homes underwrote the replacement for Cessy, retired after 10 years partnered with Sgt. Dave Davis.
The multi-jurisdictional warrant service team, established in 2002, consists of three Dowagiac officers, seven from the Sheriff’s Office and one from Pokagon Tribal Police.
“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 in the past. Most calls are drug-related,” Wiggins said. “Our last call, in Edwardsburg, was for a barricaded gunman. An old ambulance transports the rest of our equipment. Our old vests weighed 36 pounds. These are cumbersome, but lighter, and stop higher-caliber weapons. Some carry four magazines, some two. I have grenade pouches, but not like the military uses. ‘Grenade’ is a generic term for Noise/Flash Diversionary Devices.”
Wiggins has a mask if gas is deployed to flush suspects from buildings. White smoke creates cover to cross open spaces.
Some devices, such as camera-containing “throbots,” are hurled by hand, others by a gun-like projectile launcher.
Flashbang serial numbers are carefully logged in case ATF (federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) demands accountability for particular stun grenades.
The team carries Halligan tools like firefighters use, a battering ram, helmets which muffle noise yet amplify whispers, night vision and a shotgun firing beanbag rounds.
“We don’t have a robot, but we can call Berrien County’s bomb unit,” Wiggins said. “Safety is our big thing. Officer Kusa, Kevin, me, put your lives ahead of our own. Hostages and innocent civilians are life priorities. In our line of work we’ve chosen, we put everybody ahead of ourselves. The only person below us is the suspect causing the problem.”
CSI Academy is also supported by Ontwa Township Edwardsburg Police Department, Cassopolis Police Department, Michigan State Police, Cass County Family Court, Cass County Prosecutor’s Office, Scoggin Law Office, Cass County Council on Aging, Cass County Department of Corrections, Burling and Gillesby DDS and Pokagon Tribal Police.
ETS, directed by Kim Luthringer, is one of eight federal TRIO programs.
ETS encourages students to establish goals and provides information on careers, post-secondary education and financial aid.