The courtroom was quiet as Judge Bradley P. Lunsford searched for his gavel.
“It was right here,” he said, pointing to the polished wooden rail of the jury box. “Did anyone see what happened to it?”
“A lady took it,” called out a voice from the gallery.
The judge stopped. “A lady took it? I didn’t give anyone permission to take my gavel. I think a crime has been committed here.”
That is how the students from Houserville Elementary started their exploration of law enforcement and criminal justice Tuesday at the Centre County Courthouse Annex.
Fifth-graders from Ferguson Elementary were at the annex in the morning, with Houserville coming in the afternoon. Wednesday will see Bellefonte and Wingate students come in to experience the program, which has been welcoming kids to the court since 1998.
“This is the most fun thing we get to do all year,” said Ferguson Township Sgt. Ryan Hendrick. He took the children on a journey through the technology of the job, showing them how to do composite sketches of a suspect on the computer.
In another room, Bellefonte officer Jason Bowser talked to them about evidence such as fingerprints, DNA and the overlooked value of the footprint.
“We can’t rely on only one thing to solve a crime, or we would never be successful,” he said.
Patton Township officer Brad Tuskovich took them through their most interactive challenge, giving the children field sobriety tests in the hallway. They walked a strip of blue tape while wearing goggles that simulated the effects of alcohol.
“I was kind of dizzy,” said Dima Gilger. “The line looked so far away.”
Lunsford said the experience is “an excellent opportunity to dispel some of the myths” children get from watching television shows like “CSI” and “NCIS.”
“They all think we have an ‘Abby,’ ” said Hendrick, referring to “NCIS’s” popular catch-all forensics investigator.
Those shows have, however, given children a keen interest in the subject matter.
“There’s a growing interest in the investigative end of things,” said Lunsford, who said that the children came into the program with great questions.
It’s a good thing. They helped him figure out that his law clerk was the one who took his gavel. Lunsford said he will let her get away with it — this time.