Blood spatter analysis. The prison system. Counter-terrorism. Cyber-bullying. Legal strategy.
Studying criminal justice can take you down many paths, as you'll see when browsing the wide variety of courses Saint Leo University's online criminal justice program offers.
With hands-on experiments and subject matter that generates passionate debates, the classes offer breadth and depth to prepare students for a variety of law enforcement careers.
The only problem may be deciding which ones to take.
To help you decide, we went to the people who know the classes best. Saint Leo professors weighed in on three core courses and three electives in the criminal justice program that deserve a closer look. Read through these excerpts of the official course descriptions along with the insider's view for a glimpse at what makes each of the classes exciting and relevant for law enforcement careers.
CRM 341: History and Science of Criminal Identification
Official word: The focus of this course is the science and history of fingerprint analysis to aid in the detection and prosecution of criminal offenders. The student will understand the biology of human epidermal and dermal skin layers to include the formation of pores and the organic and inorganic materials that are commonly found in fingerprint residues; the proper recording and comparison of prints; and the many chemical reactions that produce the developed print.
The scoop: This elective in the criminalistics specialization includes intriguing case studies on fingerprints and a look at how far fingerprinting technology has come. Students perform their own experiments, using a kit that allows them to gather and identify prints from porous and non-porous surfaces. Because the course is online, students photograph their process and write about how they conducted the experiment. They also research and write about a case where fingerprints played a critical role.
Students are fascinated by fingerprint technology, says course instructor Brandon Ball, but they also gain appreciation for the skills used to collect and analyze prints and how much more complex the process is than seen on popular TV shows such as CSI.
CRM 430: Correctional Systems
Official word: A comprehensive overview of our government's response to convicted criminal offenders. The course covers the history of corrections in the United States, inmate topologies, capital punishment and correctional law.
The scoop: Corrections is one of the three primary components of the criminal justice system, along with law enforcement and courts. R. LeGrande Gardner served in law enforcement for 26 years for local and federal agencies, including as a special agent with the FBI. He draws from his personal experiences to help students understand the subject material in this elective. With topics such as rehabilitation versus punishment, the value of minimum mandatory sentencing and the use of probation and parole, Gardner's class prompts interesting discussions as students apply their knowledge in passionate debate.
"Everybody has his or her own opinions of correctional philosophies, whether they know it or not," Gardner says. "For example, some favor the death penalty while others oppose it. Very few people are neutral on the issue of capital punishment."
CRM 419: Police Organization and Administration
Official word: A comprehensive overview of Police Organization and Administration in the United States. The history of police administration and the evolution of policing as a profession will be thoroughly explored. Current and future trends in law enforcement will be discussed in detail. Emphasis will be placed on police personnel issues and leadership skills required to manage a professional police organization.
The scoop: Weekly discussion question boards are the key to engagement in this class, as the topics provide a springboard to intense conversations. Some get heated, especially when students talk about police shootings or race relations, and Michael "Rick" Singer steers the class to a healthy debate, asking them to reply to any questions they want in a professional and courteous manner, supporting their opinions with facts.
This is a required course for criminal justice majors — and police agencies do have some unique practices, as Singer himself knows well with 35 years in law enforcement. But anyone interested in supervision or management would find the class interesting and useful.
POL 123: Introduction to Law and the Legal System
Official word: An introductory survey of the history structures and processes of the American legal system, designed to be taken as a first university-level course in law. It covers basic legal concepts such as due process and the structure of the U.S. court system.
The scoop: Though a core course in the criminal justice major, the concepts apply to many of the controversies average people encounter personally and professionally. The course also challenges preconceived notions students have about the legal system. Everyone knows about jury trials, for example, but not that they make up just a small percentage of all criminal and civil litigation.
Professor Terry Danner loves dispelling the myths students enter the class with and challenging students in debates on controversial topics, pushing them past "unenlightened generalizations" to make educated arguments. Danner also turns seemingly complex and unapproachable legal concepts into something that is easy to understand.
Once you get past the "mysterious Latin words," Danner says the legal concepts are mostly common sense and logic. The heart of the law is to help people solve differences in a fair and systematic way, and Danner keeps it interesting by casting ideas into accessible daily problems familiar to everyone.
CRM 343: Bodily Fluids as Evidence
Official word: This course covers the value of body fluids found at the crime scene, the interpretation of their patterns, and methods used to locate them. It includes bloodstain interpretation, the use of trigonometry to determine angles of impact and the origin of stain patterns, scientific limitations relevant to courtroom testimony and the history of DNA analysis.
The scoop: Your home becomes your lab as you use a kit with different types of simulated bodily fluids to conduct experiments. Students analyze how a droplet of "blood" looks when it hits the floor and how the height, direction and velocity affect the spatter. They'll even head into the bathroom with a special light to see what they might encounter there.
Brandon Ball, who has lengthy experience in law enforcement including several years as a bomb tech, works hard to drive home the point that students need to gather as much information as they can before they draw conclusions. "We're working for the victims," Ball says. "We need to let the physical evidence speak."
CRM 220: Survey of Criminal Justice System
Official word: Introductory overview of the American criminal justice system that examines crime and victimization trends, crime prevention programs, law enforcement, prosecution, defense, adjudication, sentencing, corrections and criminal justice policy making.
The scoop: Want a big-picture look at the criminal justice system and how it plays out in current events? Assistant Professor Ashlee Castle loves that she can cover so many different aspects of criminal justice in just one course. There's no shortage of current events to discuss, and the structure of the class encourages those conversations, keeping students involved as they share their thoughts.
Castle says that students also enjoy applying their real-world knowledge to the issues that come up in this writing-intensive class. Criminal justice is a captivating major, says Castle: "It holds your attention because you are always learning something new, and laws are always changing. There is always something to discuss."
What criminal justice course has been your favorite?