Youth get hands-on forensic science experience at CSI Workshop

Courtesy photo Participants engaging in a fingerprinting session on day one of the WPD Forensic Science (CSI) Camp. The camp was the senior capstone project for WHS student Andrea Gonzalez.

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Now serving in her second year of the Winters Police Department Cadet Program, Winters High School senior Andrea Gonzalez knew she had to do something that was different. It had to be larger than just the experience of being a cadet. Gonzalez said she’s interested in a career that involves forensic science or law enforcement, with homicide as a main focus. When it came time to pick a topic for her capstone project she knew she wanted to do something involving a crime scene investigation opportunity for older youth. WPD Community Services Officer Gail Jimenez served as her mentor and assisted Gonzalez as she taught participants at the workshop about forensic investigations. “I wanted to do an event that was more hands on and realistic,” said Gonzalez. “I proposed the idea and plans and she gave me the books and let me go crazy.” With assistance from WPD, Gonzalez put on the first WPD Forensic Science (CSI) Camp. The CSI Camp was a two-day event that ran in late February at the WPD Training Room. The event was free and was open to youth ages 13-17. Day one of the camp was educational. Participants learned about basic information and procedures in crime scene investigations, including Miranda Rights and how to make a crime scene sketch. Camp goers also participated in fun labs with hands-on tutorials, including topics like different types of blood spatter patterns, how to find fingerprints and how to identify different fingerprint patterns. Gonzalez said the first day was a lot of information. She said camp attendees were able to really have fun and put their newly learned CSI skills to the test on the second day of camp, when they were tasked with using their new knowledge to process a crime scene and solve the mystery on their own. On day two Gonzalez presented the group with details of a case as a police officer would before the team arrived on scene. With the help of her peers Gonzalez set up a realistic crime seen in a car, complete with actors role playing the victim and witnesses. The group of 17 was split into two groups. One group went to work on processing the car to find fingerprints and identify blood spatter on the windows and windshield. The other group interviewed witnesses. The forensic investigators had to determine who the suspect was and present their evidence to Gonzalez and CSO Jimenez in a mock court trial. They had to show with evidence that they had found from their investigation to prove the suspect was in fact the killer in a court of law,” said Gonzalez. Gonzalez said one challenge she faced with her capstone project was choosing a crime scene scenario that was both challenging and possible to process in the amount of time of the camp. The preparation for the camp and execution also challenged her. “I have never taught or had the motivation to do it. It was very out of my comfort zone, making lesson plans and speaking to a big group of kids and giving them useful information,” said Gonzalez. “Doing a whole event by myself was challenging. The planning, advertising, getting parental contacts. It gave me more interpersonal skills and also challenged me.” CSO Jimenez said that Gonzalez successfully managed to to provide an engaging and immersive experience that allowed the participants an insight into both the field of forensics and the role forensics plays in the criminal justice system. “In order to plan this event, Cadet Sergeant Gonzalez first had to work backwards by creating a crime scenario with individual evidence items that would be evaluated using specific forensic techniques. She then had to work forwards and develop a training scenario for each highlighted forensic technique,” said CSO Jimenez. The camp required Gonzalez to constantly switch between small details (from making sure fingerprints were accounted for at the crime scene to themes for presentations) to large details (questioning of a person matching the fingerprints and providing a persona script for actors to follow). All of this while guiding the camp attendees through the agenda and managing her cast of actors (around 10 additional people). “Balancing a multi-level and multi-task endeavor shows tremendous organizational skills and maturity,” CSO Jimenez said in regards to growth she saw in Gonzalez through out the project.   Gonzalez said once she got going she realized it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be. Gonzalez felt the event went well despite some camp goers being unmotivated from information overload on day one, and a little bump on day two when the suspect was accidentally handcuffed before being officially proven guilty in court. Gonzalez hopes the camp will continue if another senior is interested next year. This event was the first of its kind in Winters and exposed its participants to a new career option. I wanted to show a different side of law enforcement,” said Gonzalez. “A lot of kids who weren’t interested in forensics got out of their comfort zone. It was a positive experience for everyone who participated.” Gonzalez is planning to enroll at Sonoma State University with a concentration in criminal justice and criminal studies for the fall. She said her personal interest in forensic science and participation as a WPD cadet helped her  choose her capstone project. She advises WHS juniors who are choosing capstone project ideas to find something they are interested in and to try and do something to make an impact in the community. She said CSO Jimenez would like to see the CSI camp done annually. “It’s kind of cool to say that I started that,” Gonzalez said. CSO Jimenez said the CSI camp brought value to a field that is not always in the spotlight as a career interest. “The field of forensics requires the integration of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Camps like the CSI workshop allow students to learn about future careers through hands on demonstrations,” CSO Jimenez said.]]>

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