Southwestern Michigan College criminal justice students swept SkillsUSA’s State Leadership and Skills Conference in Grand Rapids April 8-10.
Four students, the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) team of Nicole Brill of Niles, Dowagiac Union High School graduate Abbigale Guyott and Tyler Fye of Stevensville and the gold medalist from the criminal justice team, Joseph Herrera of Holland, advance to the 52nd annual National Leaderships and Skills Conference against other state champions June 20-24 in Louisville.
More than 16,000 people, including students, teachers and business partners, are expected to participate in that week-long showcase of career and technical education students.
It was a hectic spring break week with a long-anticipated three-day trip for eight Criminal Justice Club officers and second-year students to Washington, D.C., on the front end followed by SMC’s triumphant return to Grand Rapids, scene of the Roadrunners’ dominating debut April 17-19, 2015.
“We ran the table again,” Criminal Justice Director Donald Ricker said, “except our scores were significantly higher — which is important for nationals. The CSI team is determined to medal at nationals.”
“The CSI team gets assigned a crime scene and has to collect evidence, sketch and write a report,” Ricker said. “They scored 99 percent on the practical” which, combined with a written test, make up the final score.
“It will be hard to duplicate” the CSI trio’s performance,” Ricker said. “They work very well together.”
“The club’s grown to where we had two teams competing against each other to go,” Ricker said. “The Cass County Sheriff’s Office came out and set up a mock crime scene.”
“Criminal justice is driven by scenarios they’re given as patrol officers to deal with traffic stops, interviewing witnesses and victims and arrest, search and seizure techniques.”
Fye, CJ Club vice president, was state bronze medalist last year, crossing over to the CSI team to join defending champions Guyott and Brill.
Herrera, the 2016 gold medalist, resurrected SMC’s boxing club.
Silver medalist is Jose Solis of Middlebury, Ind.
Bronze medalist Dylan Billings graduated from Edwardsburg.
Ricker, a former detective, said 14 members signed up for SkillsUSA, meriting a plaque for 40-percent growth.
SMC criminal justice students competed against Ferris State and Western Michigan universities, “but they don’t practice like we do,” Ricker said. “Jarrid (Bradford, Dowagiac’s deputy police chief) met with them every week. He’s still as involved as he was last year.”
Washington “was a fast three days,” Ricker said. They stayed in Silver Spring, Md., and traveled by Metrorail.
“We crammed in Arlington National Cemetery, Mount Vernon, the Capitol (where a Lewis Cass statue represents Michigan’s territorial governor, President Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War and President James Buchanan’s Secretary of State), the Supreme Court, the Holocaust Museum, the Library of Congress, the National Zoological Park and the Washington Monument.
”A woman I met at Arlington said, ‘You don’t want to take students to the monuments during the day. Do that at night when they’re less congested.’ That was great advice,” Ricker said.
“We saw the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which contains the name of an officer I worked with killed in the line of duty. That was an emotional moment for me. He was a motorcycle cop killed on a traffic stop by a parolee who got out early. They didn’t want to do the FBI office building tour, they wanted to do Quantico, but they don’t allow tours anymore since 9/11. We left for D.C. Sunday night, got back Thursday night and loaded up for Grand Rapids on Friday. It was enjoyable and educational, so we’ll probably do it every two years if we can.”
“(Congressman) Fred Upton’s office was really helpful in getting us passes,” Ricker said. “Will Stone from his staff gave us a first-class tour. We sat in the House Chamber and the Supreme Court room where cases are heard. The only (member of Congress) I saw that I recognized was Patrick Leahy,” the Vermont senator with more seniority than presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
“The students recognized (Leahy) from Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises,” Ricker said of the Batman fan’s numerous cameo appearances.
“Leahy’s in this new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice I saw Sunday night,” Ricker noted. “So is (Michigan Sen.) Debbie Stabenow” since it filmed in Detroit in August 2014.