CSI As Not Seen On TV


As a 13-year veteran of the St. Louis County Police Department — six as a dispatcher and seven as a patrol officer — Geriann Brandt, an adjunct criminology professor at Maryville University, knows homicides are not solved in the tidy, concise way portrayed on television by “CSI” and similar shows. That is the core message she delivers in her Introduction to Criminal Investigation course, which is part of Maryville’s sociology curriculum.

On April 23, her students portrayed homicide victims, suspects, police detectives and forensic scientists as they participated in a class project that took the place of their final exam. Students, who were divided into teams, were scored based upon proper seizure and documentation of evidence, the interviewing of witnesses and suspects, and a final police report written about their investigations. As part of the simulation, Maryville’s public safety officers and the Town and Country police department responded to the “crime scenes.”

“I would hope the students would have a better understanding of the chaos, danger and emotions that surround any crime, especially a significant crime scene,” said Brandt, who is in her third year of teaching the course. “I would hope  this exercise demonstrates that police work is a very tedious, time-consuming career, mistakes can be made, weather conditions are not always ideal and the legalities that surround interviewing offenders and witnesses must be met with proper criminal procedures.”

Brandt said the simulation is a great way for students to put into practice the theories and laws they have studied throughout the semester. “This is a hands-on, team project that teaches just how difficult and exhausting processing a crime scene actually can be,” she commented. “This project not only involved their critical thinking and academic skills but also stressed teamwork, as the real working environment does.” Sophomore criminology major Daryl Reitzner agrees.

“This activity was one of the most interesting and intriguing things that I have done,” Reitzner said. “It shows you how a real-life crime scene would potentially be like. The crime scene shows how detectives and the police have to work together to keep the integrity of the crime scene and solve the crime. It was a great hands-on learning experience. This is why Geri is the best teacher.”

Brandt said she never thought about canceling the simulation, given that it took place just one week after the Virginia Tech shootings. “I could not allow my Maryville students to miss this excellent opportunity and let all of their hard work, up to this point, go to waste. I could not allow their academic enhancement to be curtailed due to the nefarious behavior of a very sick individual.”

While her course is geared toward criminology majors, it is an elective and attracts the interest of students from diverse majors. “The course fills very fast with several students contacting me to be considered if someone drops the class,” Brandt said.

In the photo: Students dust evidence for fingerprints as part of a simulated crime scene investigation.