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Teens get real-world experience in crime scene investigation

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By Deborah Swearingen

With bright yellow tape, scattered bullets and blood-spattered fabric, the Bemis Library looked like a crime scene. And for all intents and purposes, last Thursday, it was.

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For the eighth year, area teenagers gathered at the library for a three-day CSI police program hosted in collaboration with the Littleton Police Department.

In the first two days, participants explored the science of solving crime and learned about fingerprints, shoe prints, crime-scene diagramming and photography, bloodstain analysis and more. On the final day, they put their skills to the test when they paired up to work an mock crime scene.

Kathy Le, 18, first participated in the CSI program when she was a freshman at Littleton High School. Le enjoyed it so much she came back as a sophomore and again as a recent high school graduate.

“I’ve learned something new every single time,” she said. “The community is always just very nice and welcoming and helpful.”

Teen librarian Mark Decker initially came from Jeffco Public Libraries, where he hosted a two-hour presentation in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office. When he came to Bemis, he contacted the Littleton Police Department, hoping to start a similar program at his new location.

In his discussions with Littleton’s crime scene investigation team, the idea morphed into a more intensive multi-day program. Decker said the program is a great opportunity for students to learn about their local police department.

“They get positive interaction with the police department. They get to see how hard cops have to work and stuff that they have to deal with everyday,” he said.

The CSI police program can be beneficial for those interested in law enforcement, since it provides real-world experience and a practical idea of what a police job would entail. But it’s not intended solely for those aspiring to join the force. For others, Decker said, it’s just a cool program where one can get hands-on experience.

Le knows this firsthand. Next year, she will attend the University of Colorado at Denver and study biology on a pre-med track. Though she doesn’t plan to work for a police department, Le considers her experiences with the CSI police program invaluable and recommends it for all.

“Go for new experiences and try out for it whether you end up liking it or not,” Le said.

The Littleton Police Citizen Academy Alumni Association provided volunteers who helped out with the event. Karen Wojdyla was one of those volunteers and said she came on the first day of the program to help set up.

“It’s nice to come back and actually do the crime scenes with the students,” Wojdyla said as she watched two teens investigate a drug deal gone wrong outside the library during their final exercise. “It’s a great program.”

Decker tipped his hat to Cheri McAlister and Bob Silvas, the LPD crime scene technicians who lead the program and volunteer their time to share what they do.

“The two CSI people that are here — they’re still working, and they’re the only CSI people in Littleton. We had one year when they got called on a case the night before, and we had to adapt,” Decker said.