Annual Homicide School Helps Keep Michigan Police Proficient
Police from around Michigan are attending an annual training program known as Homicide School, a five-day series of hands-on tests meant to sharpen responding officers' actions and response times when dealing with a homicide. The program is taking place at the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice.
"Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Fabian Suarez blasted the news via text message Wednesday morning: Six simultaneous homicides at an office building on South Washington Avenue in Lansing.
A 30-person team of investigators sprang into action, gathering their notebooks and forensic kits and spreading across the squat concrete building in six teams of five. Each team reached a gruesome scene: A body sprawled across the floor of an attorney’s office, a pistol nearby, blood on the wall.
As the investigators went to work — keeping back the press, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses — members of the MSP Training Division graded their performance.
The corpses were plastic dummies, the blood splatter was on a piece of paper taped to the wall, and the mock murder scenes were part of the annual Homicide School organized by MSP and the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice.
[']This is a chance for (officers) to actually investigate a homicide in a sterile environment,['] MSP Det. 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen said Wednesday. [']If you’re going to make a mistake, this is the place to do it and learn.[']
The training sessions have been offered yearly since the 1980s, Christensen said.
Participating in the five-day training were officers and troopers from six municipal police departments and 16 MSP posts from across the state, including the Lansing Police Department and the MSP Lansing Post. The Homicide School was held at the Washington Street Armory, used by LPD as a training facility.
Participants spend the week in classrooms learning from MSP investigators about everything from laboratory work to working a cold case and from MSU scientists about everything from anthropology to odontology, the study of teeth.
[']It’s throwing a lot at them fast,['] said Christensen, a member of the MSP Paw Paw Post.
He said the students’ experience ranged from rookies looking for training to help with a promotion to veteran investigators looking for a refresher.
Wednesday’s training [']really gives us an opportunity to put what we learned in the classroom into play,['] said Detective Sgt. Jeremy Brewer of the MSP Lansing Post.
After the text from Suarez, a member of the MSP Niles Post, the students fanned out in their teams to one of six identical crime scenes. At each scene, the office of Steven D. Rattler was a mess. Chairs overturned, the body on the floor, the blood on the wall.
The students spoke to MSP troopers who played the first officers on the scene and with representatives from MSU who played witnesses. They scoured the scenes for evidence and practiced appropriately collecting it.
And they radioed to a command center in the basement for warrant checks on the witnesses and other questions.
At the command center, a handful of MSP troopers at laptops answered questions off of a script, being careful to give away the correct information — and not too much information — to the students.
[']You can mess up the whole scenario from that room,['] Christensen said.
The students would spend most of the day on the mock investigations, Christensen said.
The course was successfully completed when they’d obtained an arrest warrant from a prosecutor.
Brewer, of the MSP Lansing Post, said he’d investigated homicides before but still learned from the training.
[']Once you get to a scene, nothing goes as planned and you have to be fluid,['] Brewer said. [']They always have a little nuance in there that will throw you a curve ball.[']