- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) - Dozens of students have enrolled in the Law Enforcement Career Academy through the Porter County Career and Technical Center and gone on to a successful career in law enforcement.

Teachers Curt Hawkins, a retired Valparaiso detective, and Ralph Iler, a former Porter County chief juvenile probation officer, say the primary goal of the program is to help young adults choose a career path in law enforcement and to challenge them to become responsible residents of their communities.

Sgt. Jason Praschak, 32, of the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, worked at the Porter County Jail in 2005 before joining the sheriff’s department a year later.

“I took those classes when I was in high school and I really loved them,” he told The (Munster) Times (https://bit.ly/1GJ8q2N ).

“They were a lot of fun and really eye-opening to the law enforcement field. It prepared me for college and law enforcement because they were based on a college format.”

Students can choose from four classes — Introduction to Criminal Justice, Criminology, Criminal Investigations and Introduction to Traffic Control. Students who successfully complete the classes can earn up to 12 hours of college credit under the dual-credit program.

On any day of the week, you might find Hawkins and Iler talking about real-life cases. One day, Hawkins talked to students about the Christel Helmchen case. Helmchen, 19, was abducted from a Valparaiso White Hen Pantry and murdered on Nov. 14, 1990. Glen W. “Billy” Harmon, 19, and Rodney Wood, 16, were arrested on Nov. 15. Harmon implicated his stepfather, Perry S. Miller, 43, in the murder.

Hawkins was just starting a new chapter on death investigation, and he explained to his students there are four kinds of death: natural, accidental, suicide and homicide.

“Felonious injuries and criminal homicide can be one of the most difficult responsibilities assigned to a police officer and the most important,” Hawkins told students. “It’s difficult to talk to families, and these crimes are viewed as being among the most serious offenses committed in society.”

Students have learned about fingerprinting, court procedures and crime scene investigation. One day, students in Iler’s class learned what happens when someone takes a lie-detector test.

Valparaiso High School senior Spencer Hathaway said he comes from a family of law enforcement officials and intends to follow in their footsteps.

“I hope to get a job with the Porter County Sheriff’s office,” he said. “My father is a special agent with the DEA and I have two uncles in law enforcement. My grandfather was a judge in the Arizona Circuit Court. They didn’t have programs like this when they were in school but it’s definitely good preparation for my being a police officer.”

Portage High School senior Catelyn Leach, 18, said she also plans to attend Indiana University Northwest and earn a degree in law enforcement.

“By the time I turn 21 or 22, I want to be in a department close to home. … Sometimes people see officers in a bad light, and I want to shine I light on them and how much they help.”

The program is housed at Wheeler High School in Valparaiso. Wheeler, in the Union Township School Corp., is one of seven school districts in Porter County that belong to the Porter County Career Center, along with the School City of Hobart in Lake County.


Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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