For the past six years, many Americans have been tuning in weekly to the CBS hit series CSI: Miami to watch a Miami-Dade County forensics team solve mysterious and unusual crimes by using cutting-edge scientific methods and good old-fashioned police work.
The series, created by Anthony Zuiker, depicts the seemingly glamorous lifestyle of crime-solving within Miami’s cultural melting pot of communities while focusing on a particular crime case in each episode. While CSI: Miami reveals to viewers what a day in the life of crime scene investigators might be like, in real life, however, actual crime scene investigators say that it is not as glamorous as the show makes it out to be.
This is the reality that 26 high school students from the Overtown Youth Centre had the opportunity to witness as the Johnson & Wales University in North Miami hosted a Crime Scene Investigation course on Monday, July 21st in an attempt to introduce them to the field as a career option.
Dr. Joanne Leoni, chairperson of the College of Business at Johnson & Wales University’s Florida Campus, said, “The purpose of the activities with the presentation about crime scene investigators’ work was to help to clarify the myth about crime scene investigation being glamorous and exciting.”
She continued, “Television certainly makes things very simple; solving a crime just by collecting a bit of evidence. There is much more to it than that. Crime scene investigative work is difficult, long hours and often without any happy results.”
Fred Rosario, high school coordinator at the Overtown Youth Center, said exposing the kids to different careers is important. “My goal is to get the kids to be aware of as much as they can so that when they decide what they want to do when they get out of high school, they are not in an unsure kind of state,” he said.
Detective Ignacio Vila from the Crime Scene Unit at the Broward Sheriff's Office is a lecturer in criminology courses at the university. Vila led the two-hour course which briefed the students on facts about crime scene investigation as they participated in actual demonstrations – wearing crime scene apparel and discussing methods that police departments throughout South Florida employ to prevent crime scene contamination.
Vila said, “On an education level, it gives them career orientation to criminal justice, forensics and criminalistics, as they see that police work is more involved than the common police officer driving down the street. Also, from the perspective of a private citizen, I hope that they learn that not all police out there are bad.”
DeBorah Breedlove, 15, attends the Overtown Youth Centre. The Booker T. Washington Sr. High School student said, “From this experience I see that at Johnson & Wales you can be one-on-one with your professor. They’re more hands on and you don’t just sit there and read out of a book to learn. I’m glad that I came into this program because I get exposed to different things that I hadn’t known before and it really helps me.”
The Overtown Youth Center provides a safe haven for the youth of the inner city community located near downtown Miami. The center, founded by local real estate developer Martin Z. Margulies, offers in-school, after-school, weekend, and summer programs that are designed to engage children in activities that promote their physical, academic and social development.
The CSI course was just one of the many activities that exposed the youth to experiences outside of their community. Another major opportunity that the students experienced this year was meeting and having breakfast with Congressman Kendrick Meek in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
Rosario said the CSI activity also expanded the students’ awareness of the course offerings at the university’s North Miami campus. “The kids that know Johnson & Wales automatically think that it’s all about the culinary arts so they have no idea that they have a criminal justice component. This shows them that they don’t have to go away for school to learn what they need to and they won’t have to worry about out-of-state tuitions or financial aid because they have it here in their own backyard.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Detective Ignacio Vila, left, demonstrates crime-solving techniques for DeBorah Breedlove, right at Johnson & Wales University.