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West Virginia Northern Community College Expands Criminal Justice Program

Photo by Joselyn King John Lantz, assistant professor and chair of the criminal justice program at West Virginia Northern Community College, shows tools students will be taught to use when taking a criminal investigations class at WVNCC.

WHEELING — The public shouldn’t be alarmed if they drive past the West Virginia Northern Community College campus in downtown Wheeling this fall, they see caution tape and people are investigating what appears to be a crime scene.

WVNCC has added a criminal investigations class to its growing criminal justice program, and much of the lab work is going to be taking place outside for now.

“It’s not just about textbooks, powerpoints and slides. We will actually be doing hands-on stuff,” said John Lantz, assistant professor and chair of the criminal justice program at West Virginia Northern Community College.

“People in the area will see students out there in the fall, and we will be roping off crime scenes. I’m sure I’m going to have to contact everyone in the know (law enforcement and the media).”

The new class is being offered starting with the upcoming semester that starts Aug. 23, and there’s still time to pre-register, Lantz said. The course is open to as many as 10 students.

Presently there are as many as 60 students seeking to obtain associate degrees in the two-year criminal justice program at WVNCC.

The 61 hours of credit required also transfer to other colleges if the student wishes to pursue a four-year degree, according to Lantz.

He acknowledged some of the students may not have an accurate picture of what is involved in criminal investigations.

“I ask my students, ‘How many of you watch CSI?'” Lantz said. “Of course, most of them raise their hands. Then I have to tell them that’s television. This is real life.

“A crime is not solved in one hour. Evidence is not retrieved from the crime lab in one hour.”

Students who take the criminal investigations class will “really get the nuts and bolts of what investigators really do” when they investigate a homicide, he said.

Labs will focus on the investigation of murder and sexual assault crimes.

The Wheeling Police Department has donated empty shell casings to be used in the mock crime scenes.

“They will be spread across the campus lawns, and students will have to locate them,” Lantz said.

There also will be a number of students who are well-acquainted with law enforcement and investigations, he said. Many local officers and deputies wishing to obtain their college degrees enroll in the program.

And their teacher might also be their daily boss. Police chiefs and sheriffs from throughout the Northern Panhandle serve on the program’s advisory committee, and many experienced law enforcement professionals teach classes

A degree in criminal justice now can be obtained online through WVNCC. It was the advisory committee’s suggestion that classes be available over the internet as many law enforcement agents work shifts that don’t permit them to take classes during the day, and online learning makes the learning available to anyone anywhere, Lantz explained.

In the near future, WVNCC has plans to purchase property off-campus where they would create a permanent criminal investigations lab, he said.

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