Students Analyze Real Unsolved Cases
A special topics course this semester introduced students to the methodology of investigating unsolved crimes. But instead of reviewing hypothetical or textbook scenarios, the students interacted with investigators from the Marquette Police Department, reviewed reports from two local cases that remain open and were asked to develop and support their conclusions as to which direction the investigations should take.
It helped that their instructor has a direct connection to both cases. Steve Snowaert took a leave of absence from his detective/sergeant duties with the MPD to accept a one-year, full-time teaching assignment in Criminal Justice. He has served as an adjunct instructor in the department since 2007.
“As these students get close to earning their degrees, being exposed to real-life situations they may run into is only going to benefit them in the long run,” said Snowaert, who returned to the force this week. “Some police officers have never worked a homicide-type case, so this may prove to be the experience of a lifetime for some students and I think they’ll look back in many years and remember this class.
“Students mainly reviewed investigative reports. They were also able to go to the police department and help organize material. They were allowed to see certain pieces of evidence, but because of my position with the police department, I had full authority to handle that while maintaining the chain of custody. It was a great opportunity for the students to feel like part of a team and also for the police department. We’ll take a look at what they came up with and see where it goes from there. It might offer a fresh perspective.”
Snowaert also brought in lead investigators who worked the cases and had others, such as a retired polygraph operator, speak about various elements of investigations. Students were assigned books by Mike King, a renowned criminal profiler who analyzes cold cases. King participated in the class via Skype. His scheduled public presentation on campus recently had to be canceled.
“The students obviously weren’t able to conduct any interviews as part of the class, but I gave them all of the resources I could and answered any questions I could before asking them to come up with their own conclusions and explain how they got there,” added Snowaert.
According to Dale Kapla (Criminal Justice), students were required to sign a confidentiality agreement to avoid compromising any aspect of the ongoing investigations.
“We had two empty offices set up where they could sit and review reports,” Kapla said. “They couldn’t take the material with them, but it was great to see so many of them coming in every day to research these cases. And they weren’t all criminal justice majors. They represented psychology, forensic biochemistry and other disciplines. The course gave students an inside view of investigations, helped them develop analytical skills and exposed them to real-world detectives—things you wouldn’t get just sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture. This is the first time we’ve offered anything like this. We would love to run it again sometime.”