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Junior Police Academy offers glimpse of future for police hopefuls

Jordyn Mihalik, 16, a student at Bellefonte Area High School, dusts for fingerprints on a cup during the Junior Police Academy at the Patton Township building on Thursday. Below: Students take fingerprints during the activity.
Jordyn Mihalik, 16, a student at Bellefonte Area High School, dusts for fingerprints on a cup during the Junior Police Academy at the Patton Township building on Thursday. Below: Students take fingerprints during the activity. CDT photos

Looking intent, Jordyn Mihalik donned black gloves and dusted a plastic cup for fingerprints.

The Bellefonte native was not at a crime scene and is not a police officer or a forensics investigator, but hopes to be one someday. Mihalik was one of about 20 high school students from around the region taking part in a junior police academy Thursday evening at the Patton Township municipal building.

Criminal justice is intriguing because family members have worked in the field, she said, and is interested in forensics from watching TV shows featuring investigators. Helping solve crimes and people harmed by them is appealing, she said.

“It’s just so cool to try to figure out the whole story, to figure out what happened,” Mihalik, 16, said.

The program is available for high school students in the county interested in criminal justice or a career in law enforcement. The course, now in its 12th year, is designed to give participants a feel for all types of jobs the field encompasses, said Patton Township police Officer Tom Snyder, who teaches the classes.

“The purpose of this is to show the kids what all the fields are,” he said.

The subject Thursday evening was crime scene investigation. Snyder taught different aspects of evidence collection, like taking fingerprints and speaking to witnesses. Students got a look at some of the tools used by police at the scenes of crimes, like a drug testing kit and a blacklight used to check for the presence of bodily fluids. At the end, each got to try their hand at dusting for prints.

Snyder has been involved in the program every year, and it’s rewarding because it helps students determine if police or legal work is something they wish to pursue after high school. A few participants over the years have gone on to become police officers, he said.

The program runs Tuesdays and Thursdays for two more weeks. Future meetings this year will feature demonstrations by a bomb squad, and, next week, a tour of Centre County Correctional Facility. Other law enforcement agencies, like the FBI and state’s Office of Attorney General, will also take part in other events this year.

It is Mihalik’s third time participating in the program. It changes from year to year, and is “perfect” for providing an overall feel of the justice system.

It’s the first time a class has focused on the scene of an incident, she said, and she learned that there is more to collecting evidence than she thought.

“It gave me more of an understanding of what is involved with crime scene investigation,” Mihalik said.

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