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Not your typical graduation – 24 officers graduate academy

In pomp and circumstance season, some ceremonies stand out. I attended one last Thursday that was significant because of what the graduates wearing, and I’m not talking ties or shined-up shoes, although I saw plenty of them. Try something a little more unusual — like holsters.

That’s routine attire at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy in Pearl, where 24 top cops recently completed the Certified Investigator Program. Participants represented departments from all over the state — the Alcorn County Sheriff’s Department, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, the Vicksburg Police Department, the Mississippi Gaming Commission, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture. Yes, even the Department of Agriculture (Ag Theft Bureau) needs investigators. Cattle rustling, it seems, is still a problem, even in 2017.

Not only did the graduates come from all corners of the state, but they came from various points in their career, too. One officer had three years of experience. Another had 30. 

The CIP consists of 400 hours of classroom instruction given in 10 separate weekly sessions spread over five months, a format that works for agencies that can’t spare their employees for an extended period of time. While at the academy, CIP participants are taught skills ranging from crime scene photography to interview techniques. They work with experts from the Department of Homeland Security, the Mississippi Attorney General’s office, the state crime lab, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, and a host of other outlets.

Leslie Falvey, an investigator with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, was among those receiving their certifications last week. He described the course as an extensive education that equips participants to take cases to the next level. “Two years ago, Lincoln County sent another officer through the program, and the results were great,” he stated.

I asked Falvey if there was an area of study he found particularly relevant. His answer surprised me.

“Human trafficking is a problem, even in Lincoln County,” the master sergeant explained. “It’s becoming a more lucrative business than narcotics. Lincoln County has main arteries with I-55 and Hwy. 84. We’re on the track from New Orleans to Chicago, and we’re not far north from I-10. There’s a lot coming through our area that we don’t realize is coming through.” He added that the certification program didn’t just educate participants to recognize human trafficking, but it put them into contact with the right agencies —  local, state, and federal — to fight it. 

My husband, an investigator with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, was also a member of this year’s CIP graduating class. That means that since January, I, too, have been learning about stalking, terrorism, and gang tattoos — vicariously.  A few weeks ago, the class spent an afternoon viewing autopsies. I couldn’t help but ask why.

“To help us understand what the medical examiner needs,” my husband replied. “We work together to analyze wounds and try to figure out what happened and how it happened. He needs us. We need him.”

The CIP also brought in actors and led participants through a complete investigation scenario, from the initial 911 call to a mock trial. For my husband’s team, it was a report of a possible strangulation. They arrived at the scene and collected evidence, conducted interviews, took pictures, and requested a DNA analysis. They also wrote reports and were critiqued on their responses during cross examination. “It helped us understand what to expect in court — what the prosecutor will be asking, what the defense will be asking,” my husband recalled. 

Pat Cronin of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety served as keynote speaker at Thursday’s ceremony. He reminded the audience of the CIP’s beginnings, explaining that organizers had been concerned about officers who moved from the street force to investigation overnight, with only the guy who’d gone before them able to provide instruction. Having an established curriculum to train investigators to do their job, Cronin said, was the goal. 

“As a citizen, I have skin in this game,” he told the crowd. “We believe a good investigator will get a bulldog attitude from this course, and won’t give up on cases. Sometimes you’re just one witness away from solving a case that has perplexed the law enforcement community for years.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.