Monroe students get lesson from crime scene investigators

FORSYTH — For two years, students in Susan Childs’ classes at Mary Persons High School have been obsessed with careers in crime scene investigation.

“For a lot of them, this is all they talk about,” Childs said of her work-based learning class that teaches students about careers.

In response, Childs invited Macon police crime scene investigators Lt. Jeff Pettis and Sgt. Steve Gatlin to visit the school Tuesday to talk about their jobs.

“I thought they needed to know the ins and outs” of the job,” Childs said. “It’s glamorized on TV, and they need to know it’s not just all the glamor and fun.”

Pettis and Gatlin spoke to three classes Tuesday morning, dispelling myths about crime scene investigations and sharing stories.

Gatlin told one class that many people have a mistaken view of the limitations of crime scene investigation technology because of shows on TV.

“They’ve got people believing you can get a fingerprint off of a booger, and it just ain’t true,” he said, adding DNA results take much longer than portrayed on TV. “It takes 48 hours to extract DNA.”

Pettis showed students diagrams of crime scenes and a plaster cast of a shoe print.

Gatlin explained how police can look at blood spatter left behind at a crime scene to determine how many times a person was hit with an object and how a person was killed.

Students listened intently as Gatlin and Pettis recounted stories of how crime scene techniques have helped solved crimes.

Several students winced when Gatlin told the story of a burglar who sliced off part of his thumb breaking a window to get into a furniture store this past September.

The police recovered the chunk of the burglar’s thumb and were able to use it to get a fingerprint that later pointed investigators to the burglar, he said.

While Gatlin and Pettis became police officers and later were transferred to the crime scene investigation unit after several years on the force, Gatlin said the GBI and FBI crime labs require crime scene investigators have a technical or college degree.

After listening to the police officers’ presentation, 12th-grader Jennifer Wells said she has a better understanding of what a career in crime scene investigation would entail.

“I love puzzles and going in hands on,” Wells said.

Kayla Ray, a 12th-grader, said she regularly watches “CSI” on TV, but now she’ll watch knowing what true crime scene investigators can do. “I’ll be like, ‘that’s not true,’ ” she said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.