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Sandy Journal

CTEC mock scenario puts reality into learning about law enforcement

Aug 09, 2021 01:05PM ● By Julie Slama

Sandy Police school resource officer Damien Harrison makes sure CTEC criminal justice students understand the safe way to approach a car during a traffic stop. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Alta High senior Bella Gates sat with her hands on the steering wheel on the side of the road, glancing in her side mirrors as the two who pulled her over approached the car, one on each side, looking in her windows at the back seat inside the car before talking to her.

It was supposed to be a routine stop for an expired tag where they would check her license plate, car registration and driver’s license, but inside the door’s pocket, there was a weapon.

Next, the two had to act on instinct and rely upon the training they have received through Canyons Technical Education Center’s criminal justice program.

This mock scenario put Hillcrest High senior James Shriber and Jordan High senior Yeseria Flores to the test.

“No matter the situation, officers can’t do the same thing every time,” said Shriber, who may enter a law enforcement career. “Real life is a lot different than reading it in a textbook.”

Flores said the toy weapon was “more convincing,” so she relied upon her gut reaction how to react. 

“This gave me another perspective of police pulling someone over; there is no routine,” she said, adding that she may enter the legal side of law enforcement.

For Gates, who may want to become a private investigator, she learned that “every cop may react differently and have different perspectives” even though their training may be the same. 

The students in this scenario were role modeling as two school resource officers, Dane Peterson and Max Zackrison, watched, then went over it with them, pointing out that they could handcuff the driver on the curb to have the advantage, search the car and run the info to see if there are outstanding warrants for an arrest.

“You need to trust your gut instinct and adjust what you do if you see reason,” Zackrison said. 

Peterson added: “There is no right way. Every time, it’s a different scenario.”

Around the corner of the CTEC building, another student was pulled over for a taillight being burnt out in a role-play. A criminal justice student observes the car, before individually approaching on the right shoulder of the road.

“The field of view is greater and safer from the passenger side,” school resource officer Damien Harrison points out to Alta High junior Lea Cinq-Mars. “Look for anything out of the ordinary.”

Cinq-Mars said that she appreciated learning from the Sandy City officers.

“I’m always interested in learning why they do the things they do and how to keep safe,” she said, adding that this course has inspired her to learn more and consider a career in criminal justice.

CTEC’s criminal justice program is designed for students to not only participate in simulated scenarios with professionals, but to also study an overview of criminal justice to learn steps to becoming a police officer, including participating in an oral board interview and taking the police physical fitness test. Students also gain an introduction to the corrections side of criminal justice, learn about careers in law enforcement and acquire an understanding of criminal law and participate in a mock trial.

It is a concurrent enrollment class with Salt Lake Community College, so students not only get career technical or elective credit in high school, but also 12 college credits. The cost is a $40 SLCC concurrent student enrollment fee along with a $5 per credit fee as well as a $30 CTEC uniform cost that includes a duty belt, gun holster, radio and cuff holster. 

Typically, students are high school juniors or seniors and about 15-18 students throughout the district enroll per term, said criminal justice instructor Edwin Lehauli, who estimates 75% of his students will enter the field so this is “less expensive than getting their generals at college.”

“We do a lot of hands-on with our classes,” he said. “We study cases in our community and the standards of the police departments. We run through scenarios, so our students understand safety aspect of law enforcement from a traffic stop to search and seizure to a service call for domestic violence.”

As the term continues, typically students also learn from EMTs about being a first responder as well as a corrections officer how to handle situations with inmates. Near the end of the term, they participate with lawyers and district attorneys about the legal side of law enforcement.

“We usually have students participate in ‘a day in the life of a police officer’ where they have to use their critical thinking skills to handle a scenario on campus,” Lehauli said. “We want students to remember things based on previous mock situations so they can understand what they can do and can’t and why.”

Students also participate in mock job interviews with professionals in the field, who will provide feedback on how to prepare and interview for these positions. 

“It’s also a good opportunity for our students to create those contacts to get into the positions they want, make those connections and to ask them more about their careers,” he said. He also shares with them his experience that included earning his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, working for a sheriff’s office as well as teaching in the field at both Weber State University and SLCC. “It’s invaluable that these students are learning from law enforcement professionals, so they are understanding it with open eyes.”

Harrison agrees: “These students have a lot of desire to enter law enforcement and will have a better understanding of what we do. If they don’t pursue a criminal justice career, they still will benefit from having a good understanding of what we do as average, everyday citizens and that results in better interaction.”