by Sarah Mummert, Student Public Relations Writer
Textbooks and faculty lectures are common in higher education. But what about cold cases?
In Steve Meacham’s criminal investigation class at Cedarville University, the former New York State Police senior investigator introduced a cold case for his students to study and learn the principles of criminal investigations.
Meacham worked for 31 years with the New York State Police as a state trooper and then as a criminal investigator with the NYSP Bureau of Criminal Investigation. His experiences make him an expert in the field, giving him the credibility to teach future law enforcement officers.
Some of Meacham’s former NYSP investigator colleagues recently re-opened this case when new evidence surfaced.
Using widely available materials, including public records and media reports, Meacham instructed his students to go through the evidence themselves, putting together the pieces of the puzzle and seeing if they could determine whether the death was accidental or the result of foul play — something that investigators don’t yet have the answer to themselves.
“Criminal investigation is about solving a crime in a way that holds guilty people accountable,” said Meacham. “Prosecuting the right person is the result of having done an excellent job with the criminal investigation.”
In Meacham’s class, students learned about the proper steps in conducting a quality criminal investigation, including correctly applying the law, collecting and preserving evidence and interviewing suspects, witnesses and victims.
“The biggest thing I have learned from this course is to never be too quick to assume,” said Selah Harbor, a criminal justice junior hoping to pursue a career as an attorney. “Working through this case really challenged my critical thinking skills, and I feel that it has also made me more detail oriented while also able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.”
But it isn’t just criminal justice students who took the class. In fact, the roster represented a variety of programs, such as cyber operations, chemistry, forensic science and psychology.
Kobe Couvion, a senior cyber operations major, enrolled in the course as a cyber elective. The class is relevant in a different kind of way, as it has helped him learn to analyze cyber-related crimes through the eyes of a criminal investigator.
“I enjoyed Professor Meacham’s engagement and excitement about criminal investigations,” said Couvion. “As a retired criminal investigator himself, he offered insights and anecdotes that a textbook alone simply cannot. Hearing stories about his work helped me see the reality of the topics we learned about, and that he too employed these principles and techniques in his experience as an investigator.”
The students in the class also appreciated that they got to work with a real case.
“Criminal investigation is not at all similar to some TV show,” Meacham said. “It’s a lot of work behind the scenes, and the students understand this. This is a real case, and this is a real crime that occurred.”
Though this wasn’t “amateur sleuthing,” where college students crack a case that professional investigators can’t, this exercise added value to the learning experience because it has no definite answer. This open-endedness allowed students to truly use their criminal investigation skills to come to conclusions about the case.
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is a Baptist university with undergraduate programs in arts, sciences, and professional programs, and graduate programs. With an enrollment of 5,456 students in 175 areas of study, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio and is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, including its Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice, and high graduation and retention rates. For more information about the University, visit cedarville.edu.