DES MOINES, Iowa - DMPD Dispatch received a crime alert call at approximately 3:30 a.m. on October 8 regarding a body behind Central Campus. The male caller would not leave his name for dispatch, but he stated there was a lot of blood, and the man was dead. He then hung up, leaving a DMPD Patrol unit to find a deceased, white male behind the school underneath the Fleur Drive bridge.
After the scene was secured and taped off by the patrol, 17 Central Campus students were given an hour-and-a-half to investigate the crime scene before their next class period.
Yes, it's a mock crime scene - but there's nothing "fake" about it, according to Captain Kelly J. Willis, the instructor for Central Campus' newest course, "Crime Scene Investigation 1."
"It gives the students a chance to participate actively in each one of the roles, whether it be a police officer protecting the scene, a photographer, a crime scene forensic technician, or a sketcher. So they're doing all the different jobs that the police department would do if this were a real homicide," he said. "We've actually just had the biochemistry instructor come down, and we're going to take this the next level...there will be students who actually solve this crime through DNA and blood spatter evidence."
It's the first year for the course to be offered at Central Campus; in its first-year pilot program, retired DMPD Captain Willis agreed to instruct the course, with help from Greg Gourd, a retired senior identification technician from DMPD. The class is also supported by assistance from the police department and County Sheriff. Originally limited at 15 students for the year-round course, the high level of interest resulted in 17 students - and yes, a long waiting list for next year.
"What we're trying to teach here is citizenship," Willis said. "What we're trying to do is take an interest and turn it into a passion. We all know not all 17 students will go out and want to pursue law enforcement - and that's okay. But they will be better citizens because they will understand our job. They're getting insight that most citizens have never seen."
The class goes well-beyond the curriculum of the Des Moines Public School District, too. The year-long course is comprised of five core subjects within criminal justice, and with each unit's course description approved by DMACC, these students have the potential to walk away with 16 college credits.
"At Central Campus here, it's not just criminal justice. It's marine biology, welding, forensic science photography," Willis said. "The 16 hours of college credit, as long as they show up, they've earned that. No one can take that from them...it's free of charge."
As for the future of the criminal justice course, Willis says he doesn't have the answer; clearly, the level of interest is high, and so far, Willis says the course has been very successful. He's agreed to instruct this first year under the pilot program, and as of now, would love to return in the future. Funding for a class like this isn't cheap, however, according to Willis, and its future will largely depend on what value the district places on it when this first year is complete.
"I only see this course going on, from what I've seen so far," he said.
As for who committed the murder? Let's just students weren't collecting fake fingerprints off of the fake evidence Thursday morning...but you'll have to wait until the end of the year to find out who they belong to.