Saturday, 18 September 2021
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Area youth complete criminal justice academy at Holyoke Community College

HOLYOKE – A weeklong criminal justice academy at Holyoke Community College, “Cops, Crime Scenes and Cold Cases,” allowed youths 14-17 years old to explore careers in forensics, crime scene investigation and related law enforcement fields.

On Friday, the academy hosted a field day, which included a bomb squad from the federal Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, K-9 Officer Joe Brunelle of the Chicopee Police Department and a lecture by Dr. Robert Welton, a Hampden County medical examiner.

Poor flying conditions prevented members of the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing from landing at HCC.

Lou Barry, a retired Granby police chief, led the academy that began five years ago. An adjunct professor at HCC, Barry said the camp welcomed 14 participants who were eager to learn about the forensics side of criminal justice.

He said shows like “CSI: Criminal Scene Investigation” and other police procedural programs pique students’ interest.

Barry’s job over the last week was to present a truer picture of criminal justice, a reality where cases are not solved in a one-hour episode. He spent 35 years in law enforcement, including 11 years with the Orleans Police Department. He retired from the Granby department in 2010.

“They’re interested in criminal justice, particularly the forensics aspect of it,” he said. “It’s why we spend a lot of time on crime scenes.”

Several past participants went on to study criminal justice in college.

The campers visited the Hampshire County Jail, maneuvered a ropes course in Amherst, and learned about cold cases and fingerprinting. A mock crime scene was set up on the college’s grounds. Guest lecturers appeared throughout the week.

Barry said the students come to law enforcement with a different perspective than previous generations. “It’s a much different world now than when I started,” Barry said. Most police officers possess bachelor’s or advanced degrees, he added.

“They’re a little bit worldlier and more socially aware. I see positive things coming,” he said.

Anita Silvia, 15, of Westfield, said she looks no further for inspiration than her grandfather, Thomas Burnickas, a retired state trooper. She learned about the camp while attending a presentation at a local college.

She and her grandfather often talk about investigations or crime scenes he came upon during his career. “He told me who he arrested, about the crime scenes and types of deaths he dealt with,” she said.

Silvia remains focused on a career as a crime scene investigator. She cites “CSI” as a motivating factor. “When we did the fingerprinting that was an interesting thing. I learned there’s something in fingerprinting called ridges, deltas, arches, whorls and loops,” Silvia said.

She wants to attend the prestigious John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York after high school. “Since I want to go into forensic biology, I got to get my degree,” she said.

Silvia said the camp helped maintain her enthusiasm for an eventual career in forensic science.

Near the college’s entrance, Brunelle and his K-9 partner, Pako, demonstrated drug-sniffing techniques. Pako, motivated by play, searched garbage cans, flower pots and other out-of-the-way places for drugs.

“I hope it’s a positive thing. We get to show them how dogs help us do our jobs,” Brunelle said, “finding people and finding narcotics.”

Pako sees the job as a “big game,” especially when Brunelle took out a special collar worn by the dog for drug detection duty. “He knows what the job will be, or the game will be, which is finding narcotics,” Brunelle said. “We call it condition stimulus.”

He said Chicopee Police Chief William Jebb recently added two more K-9 units on the department. The campers asked Brunelle how the dogs were purchased, about how the dogs detect scents and the training involved.


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