Janae Williams, an Oxford High School junior, said that before Thursday she’d imagined a forensic scientist as a person in a lab coat surrounded by mechanical instruments.
“It’s not just lab work,” Williams said. “You have to know what is evidence and what’s not and how to correctly collect it so you don’t mess up a criminal case.”
Williams, along with several other high school juniors participating in Youth Leadership Calhoun County and adults participating in Leadership Calhoun County, spent a day taking tours at law enforcement facilities and speaking with local police and judicial leaders.
The months-long programs give participants first-hand knowledge of the community and local industries while teaching leadership skills they can use to improve their businesses and community.
Krychelle Smith, programs director with the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said the group regularly meets to have a look at healthcare, industry or small businesses in the area.
“It’s a way for people to learn of the county’s strengths and weaknesses, but also what is being done to correct those weaknesses,” she said. “The jail, for example, is overcrowded, but we heard today about mental health court and drug court which are designed to help alleviate that jail population.”
The groups began their day at the Calhoun County Courthouse and talked with Judge Brian Howell, District Attorney Brian McVeigh and Circuit Clerk Kim McCarson about the day-to-day of the courthouse.
Later in the morning Mark Hopwood, director of the Center for Applied Forensics, reviewed blood-spatter analysis, bullet trajectory and evidence collection. Matt McCullars, director of the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy, explained the rigorous 13-week program new officers go through, and Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge displayed a mobile command center, an armored vehicle and an emergency services response vehicle.
“I had an interest in this stuff already but this has been a great experience to understand what could be my future,” Makiah Burns, an Anniston High School junior said.
Burns, an aspiring forensic scientist, said Hopwood’s talk got her more excited about the career field.
“I do think it would be hard for me to get up and go to a scene at 2 a.m.,” she said. “I like to sleep.”
Later in the afternoon, participants in the programs gathered at the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office for a traditional jail lunch — square pizza, corn and a small salad. Some ate the food hesitantly while others went back for seconds.
Before starting the day, Jessica Grisso, the membership director for YMCA of Calhoun County, said she was nervous.
“As part of the program I did a ride along with a deputy before today,” she said. “I was nervous then and I was nervous about going into today even with some knowledge of what it’s like being a law enforcement official in this area.”
Grisso and the other participants took a tour of the jail, visiting the kitchen, the booking room and the tower which overlooks the men’s housing facilities.
“Wade has shown us a lot of their struggles,” Grisso said after the tour. “But he’s also shown us their advancements and it’s truly a feat with the funding they have to work with.”