Denison and Sherman high school students faced off in a series of three events at the 17th annual High School Criminal Justice Competition at Grayson College Friday.

During the mock crime scene, students were charged with collecting evidence and bringing it to the forensics lab to analyze it. Evidence included fingerprints, footprints, hair samples and shell casings.

The shooting simulator is normally used for the police academy and for local law enforcement. It is a “use of force simulator” where students make decisions based on the scenario. Students choose between the use of pepper spray, expandable baton or, if necessary, their firearms.

The weapons used are converted firearms that shoot a laser instead of a bullet. It fires the laser at the screen and a computer indicates whether or not it was a hit. Then it can be played back to determine the ultimate destination of the bullets.

Grayson College Criminal Justice professor and Lambda Chi advisor Howard Day said students are then asked a series of questions designed to help guide them through the decision-making process.

“They have to learn the legal aspect of it,” Day said. “They also have to articulate what they are doing. We keep it very simple because these are high school students. We want it to be fun and we want it to be educational.”

Lambda Chi is the college’s criminal justice club charged with designing and operating the competition each year for high school students. Day went on to explain the club competes in national and regional competitions. Part of the club’s mission is to share what is learned from those competition with high school students.

“We want students in high school who are starting to figure out what they want to do with their careers and what they want to do in life to be excited,” Day said. “If they’re interested in it and we can excite them and show them what’s possible in their career, then they are going to be more successful when they come to the college level.”

DHS Criminal Justice instructor Steve Cherry began teaching in the program in 2000. Cherry said the program is important because many of his students go on to have a career in law enforcement.

“I’ve got at least 50 students that are now in law enforcement,” Cherry said. “I have different kinds of students. I have some that want to be cops always wanted to be cops and may end up being cops. And then I’ve got curious students. A lot of times for them they become interested and end up wanting to be cops through the courses.”

SHS Criminal Justice Instructor Richard Ferguson said the program gives students the opportunity to experience real world situations.

“They get to see a different aspect than they get to see in the classroom,” Ferguson said. “It’s the fourth year for Sherman to have the program and the first time to have returning instructors. It’s a credit to Sherman for recruiting and hiring people with experience.”

Cherry explained exposure to the changing climate and technology of criminal justice is a big part of the education.

“The first thing I do with each class is to pull up articles and videos of real life situations,” Cherry said. “But I just told them I want them to do their best and to have fun here.”

SHS Criminal Justice instructor Donald Fleming agreed real world exposure is vital.

“We don’t insulate them and we try to let them know right up front that they’re going to be exposed to things that they won’t be exposed to anywhere else,” Fleming said. “We don’t want them to think they want to go into law enforcement not knowing what you’re really going into.”

DHS Senior Josh Kemp has been in the program since his freshman year.

“I took forensic science because I wanted to learn the forensic side of criminal justice,” Kemp said. “That’s what I want to major in at Sam Houston State University. I want to start off as a police officer and work my way up. My goal is to be an FBI agent one day.”

SHS Sophomore Hunter Kelley is also considering a job in law enforcement.

“I joined criminal justice because my parents were in law enforcement and I’ve had countless family members in law enforcement,” Kelley said. “They are a really good draw to join. It’s a really great program and I think it will be a future job for me. It would be a job I would love to do. The way they are doing the program is amazing.”