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Cracking the Case

Students Prepare for real-world situations in the 4th Annual Crime Scene Simulation.

Students+assess+crime+scene+during+mock+simulation.
Students assess crime scene during mock simulation.

Students assess crime scene during mock simulation.

Allenz Flores

Allenz Flores

Students assess crime scene during mock simulation.

Yamani Wallace, Contributor

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Last Monday, Nov 6 at approximately 6 p.m., a female body was found face down on her living room couch, gagged and bloody in her apartment near the University. The apartment had been vandalized, with broken furniture and a suspicious white powdery substance found at the scene. Police discovered trails of blood, footprints and signs of  struggle.

Thankfully, this crime was a reenactment at the 4th annual Crime Scene Simulation for Cal State LA journalists, criminalists and criminal justice students. Students worked together to analyze the evidence and solve the case.

The three-hour long mock up was brought together by Cal State LA’s School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics professors, Lisa Gorziano and Don Johnson. They worked tirelessly with Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Detectives to make the simulation as lifelike as possible.

The case was chosen by Johnson, who was a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) criminalist and worked on the actual case 25 years ago. Through these simulations, he teaches his students the importance of evidence.

“Don Johnson reconstructs this simulation and his students learn how to process evidence from those crime scenes,” said Gorziano.

Jim Munson, business and advertising manager of the University Times, brought in journalism students to help understand the limitations of covering sensitive crime stories. Journalists had the chance to try and be the first to uncover the story, speak to student actors who played the roles of witnesses and participate in a mock press conference.

“The role of the reporters is to question witnesses and the police about an actual crime. The criminal justice class then holds a press conference and the reporters again ask questions. It is a lot of fun,” said Munson.

LAPD detectives from the Robbery and Homicide division, Luis Romero and Grace Thornton, were nearby during the simulation to help assist students through the entire process of investigating the crime scene, questioning witnesses and participating in a press conference as well as answering any questions throughout the process. Romero believes that this simulation is a great opportunity for hands-on experience and career preparedness. He gave journalists insight on how to speak to detectives while searching for prime statements when covering stories. He also brought a police scanner recording for journalists to try and decode the mumbled static that police and detectives hear when listening to their radio.

Journalist student Betty Greene was taken back by the amount of work put into the simulation:

“It was a really cool experience. I wasn’t expecting it to be so hands-on and real when I signed up for the simulation. It was fun grilling the officers in the press conference and trying to pry more information out of them. All-in-all, the experience was amazing.”

Johnson worked as a criminalist during this case 25 years ago and assisted his students in collecting and documenting evidence during the reenactment. He used his experience from the LASD to guide his students through their work.

“Criminalist work alone and maybe for ten hours or a whole day maybe,” said Johnson.

The Applied Gerontology Institutes hall was transformed into an apartment like setting with faculty and students acting as apartment residents with assigned characters including: the suspicious neighbor, the neighbor who stays to himself but doesn’t speak English and the snooping neighbor. While the actors played their parts, journalist and criminal justice students questioned them to try and pry as much information in hopes of solving the crime.

“Asking the witnesses questions was harder than I thought. I was unsure of what questions to ask,” senior journalism student, Brenda Andrade said. “It was somewhat difficult to go around to each witness and piece together different perceptions of the crime.”

A tough three hours went by and the students were nowhere close to solving the case. At the end of the simulation Johnson gave the students an applause and gave them the disturbing conclusion to the case. Upon the realization of how time-consuming solving a crime with so much evidence and no culprits, students left with a great deal of appreciation for their respective fields.

Before the students prepare for more crime investigating, they will have one additional opportunity to solve this crime. The department will host their final crime simulation Monday, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. in the Applied Institute of Gerontology.

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Cracking the Case