Crime scene tape lined the outside of the Tyler Junior College’s Pirtle Technology Building on Wednesday afternoon as part of a mock crime scene investigation.
This is just one event students must participate in that allow them to gain real-world experience in the TJC Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice degree program.
Jason Waller, TJC law and public service careers professor and department chair, set up the entire scene for his students to “investigate” the simulated crime, a double homicide and possible sexual assault.
“This is the culmination of three semesters of work in the field of crime scenes and forensics,” said Waller. “These simulated situations allow students to gain some experience so they can go into their careers prepared to handle real crime scene investigations.”
The mock crime scene included bullet casings, imitation blood stains and two crime scene mannequins that simulated homicide victims.
TJC criminal justice students gather evidence during a mock crime scene investigation Wednesday on the TJC central campus.
Students began investigating just before 1 p.m. Wednesday, processing the area and carrying out their individual, assigned duties. Students examined the “evidence,” taking photos and recording statistics about each element and its position.
Madison Beaird, a sophomore from Lindale, will be graduating this summer from the program. She says having this hands-on experience will only propel her further within the career field she wants to go into.
“A lot of experience that you probably wouldn’t expect to gain … a lot of really good experience here,” she said. “My end goal is to go into homicide investigation, like what you see here. I would eventually like to go into FBI work.”
Criminal justice positions are currently in high demand. Waller typically sees his students place quickly with law enforcement agencies, and they’re being compensated generously.
“With a two-year degree in criminal justice, you can join nearly any department in Texas, and start out making $60,000 to $70,000 a year, or even higher,” said Waller.
Waller joined TJC in 2001 as a full-time faculty member after a long career in law enforcement. He became department chair in 2008. Waller holds an Associate of Applied Science. from TJC, a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Criminal Justice from The University of Texas at Tyler. He is also a graduate of the East Texas Police Academy, where he was valedictorian of his academy class. He previously served with both the Tyler Police and Smith County Sheriff’s departments and spent the last five years of his full-time career as a lieutenant supervising violent crimes and the Crime Scene Unit. He holds a Master Peace Officer License and is a licensed TCLEOSE instructor.
Waller and some of the cases he investigated over the years have been featured on A&E’s “Cold Case Files & Justice Files,” ABC’s “PrimeTime Live,” the WE channel’s “Women Behind Bars,” and the ID Channel’s “Hardcover Mysteries.” One of his capital murder cases has had two award-winning documentaries made about the case: “Licensed to Kill,” which won the 1996 Sundance Film Festival Documentary Award and “Lone Star Hate,” a BBC film that won numerous awards. Waller has twice been awarded the NISOD Excellence Award for Teaching by The University of Texas at Austin and was awarded the Dorothy Faye & Jack White Endowed Chair for Teaching Excellence. He also serves as a faculty advisor for TJC’s Criminal Justice Students Association.
For more information on TJC’s criminal justice program, visit TJC.edu/CriminalJustice.