This spring, 32 students from Pfeiffer’s criminal justice program participated in a full-scale training exercise conducted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) designed to simulate the aftermath of a critical incident. The goal of the exercise, which included more than a dozen federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and private sector businesses and organizations, was to identify roles, responsibilities and resources available for crime scene processing and other immediate investigative phases following a mass casualty situation.
“Students participated in and observed several aspects of managing a large-scale incident, something that most law enforcement professionals experience only after they start their careers,” said Dr. Heather Burkard, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, whose experience as a criminologist, forensics specialist, and former police department crime scene investigator and district attorney investigator provides the perspective students need for participating in the exercise. “In addition to role-playing the part of witnesses, which allowed students to observe interviewing techniques of law enforcement professionals, they were able to see firsthand why it’s important for everyone at the scene to understand their responsibilities and be prepared to perform them.”
The planned exercise provided an opportunity for law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, medical professionals, and other first responders to gain insight into the challenges of conducting an investigation while simultaneously caring for victims and their families. In addition to CMPD and FBI Charlotte, agencies involved included Charlotte Fire Department, Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office, Charlotte Mecklenburg Emergency Management, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, Metrolina Preparedness (Carolinas Healthcare System and Novant Health), United States Attorney’s Office Western District of North Carolina, Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, North Carolina Crime Lab and Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services.
“Hands-on experiences such as this bring to life what we learn in the classroom,” said criminal justice major Erin Errington ’18. “This kind of opportunity and my internship with the Kannapolis Police Department are helping me know for sure that a career in law enforcement is the right choice for me.”
Through her internship, Erin is learning police protocol related to searching buildings, de-escalating sensitive situations, handling drug overdoses and related activities. While she is considering U.S. Air Force officer training after she graduates from Pfeiffer, she knows that a job with the Kannapolis P.D. is available should she choose that path.
“Pfeiffer is honored to be the only college or university invited to participate in this important mass casualty exercise,” said Dr. Burkard. “Law enforcement agencies from around the region are noticing—through a variety of career-building opportunities—that our criminal justice students are prepared, engaged and eager to learn more.”
(Photo courtesy of FBI Charlotte Field Office)