By Dean Backes
After serving the Kansas communities of Olathe and Overland Park for about a decade collectively, former police officer Chandra Kelly discovered a way to protect and serve in the communities of Jackson, Cass and Bates counties in Missouri and beyond, long term.
Through the Cass Career Center’s articulated or dual-credit program, Kelly opened her own police academy, so to speak, five years ago. Although high school students participating in the Cass Career Center’s Criminal Justice/Crime Scene Investigation program aren’t allowed to work crime scenes alongside law enforcement officials, they do get first-hand experience in the classroom.
“We do scenario training,” Kelly said about the program she created from scratch. “We do escalation techniques, defense tactics and learn about handling firearms. They get it all as if they were going through a police academy.
“They have lockers and they get uniforms. My program is run as if it is a two -year police academy covering criminal justice, law enforcement, courts, corrections and crime scene investigation.”
According to the CCC’s program planning guide, Kelly’s program provides students with the basic skills and knowledge of law enforcement and crime scene investigation.
Future public servants receive instruction in law enforcement, criminal investigation, patrol theories, emergency management, probation and parole and defensive tactics.
Now in her sixth year of teaching, Kelly’s program brings in high school students from Harrisonville, Belton, RayPec, Archie, Drexel, Midway, Adrian and Lone Jack to explore the various careers within the law enforcement field. Through their course work, students also have the opportunity to gain certification relevant to the law enforcement industry, such as Missouri Law Skills and Knowledge, Basic First Aid and CPR.
Kelly’s students can earn dual credit through State Fair Community College in introduction to criminal justice and introduction to law enforcement for six college credits.
Throughout the school year, Kelly teaches 36 students the ins and outs of law enforcement. Eighteen students make up the morning session which runs Monday through Friday from 7:40 to 10:23 a.m., while 18 criminal justice enthusiasts sit through an afternoon session that runs five days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 1:55 p.m.
While the program does operate like a two-year police academy, the Harrisonville School District does not allow students to fire weapons or practice hand-to-hand combat.
“No day is the same,” Kelly said about the program that requires students to be a junior or senior in high school. “This year we’re doing crime scene investigation and courts. We’ll have a new topic nearly every day.
“We’re going to study forensic science and we’ll progress from there with the ethics of forensic science. We’ll move on from ethics to crime scene investigation where they’ll learn crime scene searches and what to look for in evidence collection, packaging and how to fingerprint. It’s pretty extensive.”
Although they don’t get a ton of in-field experience, there is opportunity for students to assist local law enforcement. In late July of this year, for example, the Harrisonville Police Department ran its quarterly alcohol compliance checks.
Harrisonville Police Lt. Chris Osterberg said his department calls on volunteers from the Criminal Justice/Crime Scene Investigation program and other sources they know have the ability to reach out to youth that are not of age to purchase alcohol, to help run the checks.
Known as a confidential informant, the volunteer is an adult minor, 18 or 19 years of age. With a Harrisonville detective watching, the volunteer enters a bar, restaurant, convenience store or other establishment that sells alcohol and attempts to purchase alcohol.
If the informant is turned away, he or she and the detective move onto the next establishment. Should money and alcohol change hands, the detective moves in and issues the clerk a summons when the time is right.
“We try not to interrupt business too much,” Osterberg said. “Our goal, obviously, is not for the business to lose money. Our goal is to curb the sale of alcohol to underaged individuals.
“So if there is a break in the business, the detective will step in at that point, introduce themselves and explain to the employee what the situation is. Typically, we try to get a manager involved so that way business can continue as best as possible and we pull the employee aside and issue the summons.”
Since the detective is dressed in plain clothes, goes in as a customer and positions themselves to be able to observe the sale or attempted sale of alcohol, testimony in the case is not based solely on a confidential informant because the detective actually witnessed the crime occur.
Kelly fine tunes the CJ/CSI Program every year by asking her students to evaluate her teaching skills, the program and by staying up to date on different trends and techniques. She said that the program was created because the criminal justice field is in need of quality applicants. They are also realizing that reeling in a student’s interest at a younger age helps the students fine tune their next steps.
“If we can get them and build a passion and desire early, then we’ve started to create a base of quality applicants,” Kelly
said. “And we’re seeing the results of that now.”
After five years of the program, Kelly’s students are beginning to go out in the local communities and work for local departments, correctional facilities and in dispatch.
Kelly currently has two former students in law school, three studying forensic science at Wichita State University and others that have entered the military.
Midway High School’s Kiarra Adkins and Kayden Feathers, Harrisonville, are both seniors in Kelly’s 2021-22 program. Adkins, who would like to work in the FBI someday, said she enrolled in the program to explore the opportunities a career in criminal justice offers and to get hands-on experience.
“I like the hands-on aspect of it,” Adkins said about Kelly’s program. “It’s down and dirty and teaches us how to be better people. The program also teaches us how to be better leaders, be more prepared for class and we are introduced to a lot of (law enforcement) people that are in our community.”
Feathers, who will be going into the Army after graduating from HHS, said if he re-enlists, he may go into military police. Otherwise, he said he’d investigate working at a sheriff’s office or other law enforcement agency.
His favorite training areas have been defense tactics, building searches and helping people learn proper gun safety.
“I really like that more or less you have no idea what’s on the other side,” Feathers said when talking about performing building searches. “You have to watch everything and you have to be observant and cautious. You have to watch every corner and always be aware.”
Starting her sixth year of teaching students like Adkins and Feathers, Kelly said she absolutely loves what she does.
“I can tell you this. I absolutely love my job,” Kelly said. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I mean, I was a police officer for 10 years and I loved that. But I am able to come in everyday and teach what I am passionate about to these students and kind of fire that passion in them.
“It can be an absolutely amazing career to be a part of. I am inspired every day by my students. It’s like not going to work. These kids are coming in here with absolutely no idea what the subject matter is going to be about.
“Then to watch them kind of productively struggle and then excel in something that is completely foreign to them is amazing to watch.”