Return to Headlines

South Criminal Justice Students Benefit from Instructor’s Real Life Experiences

Mr. Hart interviews with D60 about the Criminal Justice Program at South By definition, criminal justice is the system by which those who break the law are identified by their crime or crimes, detained, judged and punished. 

Wide in scope, the major components of the system are law enforcement, the courts and correctional facilities. Within each branch, there are a multitude of career opportunities, from a police officer to crime scene investigator, prosecutor to an FBI agent or profiler.

Nationwide, criminal justice is one of the fastest-growing career sectors.

At South High School, students are being introduced to this opportunity-filled sector through a burgeoning criminal justice program.

In just its second year, this Career and Technical Education pathway is led by Arin Hart, whose extensive and varied experience in criminal justice brings an enriching, real-world touch to his classroom instruction.

After serving as an Army infantryman, Mr. Hart began his career as a peace officer in Nevada before returning home to Colorado, where he worked with several law enforcement agencies.

“I have a long history of working narcotics, including undercover investigations,” he explained. “I eventually promoted and became a special operations division commander, so I ran a SWAT team, dive team, and search and rescues.”

Serving as a police chief in Missouri allowed Mr. Hart to experience more of the administrative side of law enforcement. After returning to Colorado, he became a federal police officer before closing out his career and transitioning into education.

“Career and Technical Education is a gateway into a career,” Mr. Hart said. “As far as criminal justice, we are focusing on the fundamental needs of the community and the agencies that would prospectively hire students. Specifically, the fundamental courses serve as a pathway to college, to make sure the students are prepared to be successful.”

In the Introduction to Criminal Justice course, students are exposed to the gamut of career options that the criminal justice field offers. This broad overview is designed to narrow a student’s focus to the career best suited to his or her talents, ambition and vision.

“It’s not just law enforcement,” Mr. Hart explained. “It’s also the court and correctional systems. It gives students a baseline understanding of how the whole process works, from laws to individual rights to arrest and adjudication.

“And through this, we cover a lot of the jobs and positions that are available. So as students continue through the program, they are able to narrow down a lot of things.”

An important aspect of the introductory class is a topic that has captivated criminologists and law enforcers for centuries.

“We take a look at the theories of why people do what they do,” Mr. Hart explained.

Another aspect, with more modern ties, also is part of the curriculum.

“The students are exposed to forensics,” Mr. Hart continued. “There’s a thing called the ‘CSI effect.’ Students see ‘CSI’ on TV and think, ‘I want to do that when I grow up.’ So I actually introduce students to elements of forensic science.”

That introduction unfolds in vivid and engaging fashion, thanks to a mock crime scene in the heart of Mr. Hart’s classroom.

Surrounding the “victim” are clues as to his demise, including shell casings, weapons, and although hidden, the finger- and footprints that ultimately may point the finger at the culprit.

All encompassed in the familiar “yellow tape” that foretells of a crime scene.

The collecting and analysis of evidence from the scene is followed by an interrogation of suspects. Students gain insight into the art of interviewing and interrogation by watching footage of actual police interviews, including material from the infamous Chris Watts triple murder case.

“We were able to analyze deceptive behavior and things like that,” Mr. Hart said. “So when the students went out and started conducting interviews and interrogations, they tried to identify that type of behavior.”

When dusting for prints, students employ several different methods.

“We use the fluorescent dust, with the black lights, which really brings them out,” Mr. Hart said. “We also fume for prints, using heat with an almost type of ‘super glue:’ just like they would in an actual crime lab.”

Another lab exercise focuses on skeletal recovery.

“It’s all hands-on, real life experience for the students,” Mr. Hart said.

In addition to Mr. Hart’s career experiences, which include drug, gang and homicide investigations, South criminal justice students benefit from the expertise of guest presenters, including polygraph operators, agents from the FBI, DEA and ATF, and victim advocates.

“I tell stories here and there, from different cases that I’ve had, and the students seem to really enjoy those quite a bit,” Mr. Hart explained. “For me, teaching was the next step after law enforcement, as I was an adjunct professor at a college while I was a federal police officer.

“I see my position as South as an opportunity to teach the next and upcoming generation what they need to know to not only be successful, but incorporate the leadership, team and camaraderie skills they need in this type of environment. Through my work experience, as well as the 200 different certifications I’ve earned, I’m able to bring that work environment to the classroom.”

As the criminal justice pathway at South continues to grow, Mr. Hart plans to add advanced courses such as Police Systems and Judicial Process, as well as a more intensive Crime Scene Investigation lab.

 “The feedback I’ve gotten since we started the program has been positive,” he said. “By and far, it’s been enlightening for students. I’ve had students who didn’t want anything to do with criminal justice and before the end of the year, they tell me they’re going on ride-alongs and looking at doing different components of enforcement with the parks or wildlife service.

“So it’s definitely sparked some interest and opened students’ eyes to what they want to do. With the opportunities that are out there, the sky is the limit.”