- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - John Wilson was like a kid in a candy store - if that candy store had just been robbed.

The Newman junior was lifting fingerprints from pop cans, drinking glasses and other household objects during his criminal justice class March 1 at the Whiteside Area Career Center.

“I love doing this stuff,” Wilson said. “This is really sweet. I like the idea of being in the field, doing things like lifting prints, and catching the bad guys.”

Seated to his right was Newman classmate Ethan Hafner, who’s interested in becoming a detective or a patrol officer.

“That’s a beauty of a print,” Hafner said while laying tape down on a glossy sheet to transfer it.

The purpose of the class was for each student to lift five prints, then analyze them as whorls, loops or arches.

On a grander scale, the purpose of the class was to let students get a taste of real-life law enforcement.

Directly across the table from Wilson was another Newman student, Ricky Rank.

He wanted to be a cop for years, but “I don’t know if I want to anymore, because of all the challenges you have to overcome to become a cop - like just getting hired,” Rank said. “But it’s a good learning experience, and good way to find out if you want to do it, instead of spending all the money on college.”

One major deterrent: the glut of paperwork that comes with the job.

“There’s a lot of extra work you don’t see behind the scenes,” said Polo junior J.J. Bardell, adding that it will take more than paperwork to curb his interest.

“I can’t find anybody who likes paperwork,” instructor Bruce Luther said. “Even fingerprinting is tedious work. You can’t rush into it. You have to meticulously do things, or you lose evidence. If you lose evidence, you can lose a case, and somebody who should be put in jail is out.”

The students already have completed a unit on report-writing and, after fingerprint analysis, will be studying the court system. They will study issues, policies and laws - such as the ever-changing search-and-seizure laws.

When they got to fire air guns at the indoor range, to learn the proper handling of a firearm, Wilson was sold.

Another benefit of the class is teens get to see positive examples of law enforcement, Luther said. This week alone, he’s got Dixon Police Sgts. Mike Wolfley and Steve Howell and detective Aaron Simonton lined up to speak.

The 1-year class used to be a 2-year program, and Luther hopes to work with local departments that might be leery about the liability involved with having high school students as interns to restore the 2-year status and get kids even more real-world experience.

“That’s a work in progress,” he said.

Luther served 7 years in the Army and was a correctional officer 6 years before spending 22 years with the Dixon Police Department, ascending to the rank of sergeant. He then worked 5 years at Dixon High School in special education for students with emotional disturbances and behavioral disorders.

“I really enjoy teaching, especially with the way society is. Some people only see the bad side of law enforcement, because of what they see on the news.”

Tragedy led to the job at WACC. Harry D. Ulferts, who was teaching the class after 30 years with Dixon PD, died of heart failure in June 2012 in Germany. In Ulferts’ honor, two $500 scholarships are awarded every year to two seniors in the criminal justice class.

Luther is working on another salute. As part of commemorating the school’s 50th birthday this summer, Luther enlisted Sterling High student Allison Thayer, an artist and also a member of the Police Explorer programs in Sterling and Dixon, to help him design a Wall of Honor.

He envisions a painting of all the alumni working in law enforcement, a photo of each of them, a patch of their department, and their rank. He also plans to feature the class’ three administrators: Chris Tennyson, a former Dixon High assistant principal who’s now the principal at Fulton High, Ulferts, and Luther.

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Source: The (Sterling) Gazette, http://bit.ly/1TZHoN0

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