TV cop shows boost criminal justice program

By Greg Gelpi

Television shows like CSI and Law & Order may or may not be realistic, but they are making a real impact on the criminal justice field.

Clayton College & State University's Criminal Justice program has more than 100 students enrolled in only its first semester thanks in part to the popularity of shows such as these, said Kevin Demmitt, the coordinator of the program.

"We knew that there was a lot of interest there, but I would have to say that exceeded our expectations," Demmitt said.

Kia Riggins, 22, transferred from the State University of West Georgia, where she was a pre-med major, to pursue criminal justice at Clayton State.

"I want to be an investigator, a special agent with the (U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)," the Ellenwood resident said.

The mystery and intrigue of cracking a case and solving a puzzle drew Riggins to the field.

It's "just the possibility of finding evidence and finding out who did it," she said.

Both Riggins and Hampton's Kasey Martin admitted watching cops shows on television, adding that the shows fanned their interest in criminal justice.

"I think they're kind of fake," Martin said of the shows. "I love them. It's interesting to me."

Martin, 20, said she is following in the footsteps of her parents, who have careers in criminal justice, including her father Keith Martin, who is the solicitor general of Clayton County.

Most of the criminal justice classes are taught by local law enforcement professionals, including Morrow Police Chief Charlie Sewell and Randy Cobb, the chief investigator at the Clayton County District Attorney's Office.

"You're not just teaching out of a text," Cobb said, explaining that he teaches out of experience as well. "They're getting the best of both possible worlds. You can make the text come alive."

About a third of the students in enrolled in the program are in or interested in careers with criminal justice, Demmitt said.

Earning his master's degree last year, Cobb said research for his thesis showed that many in law enforcement would go to college if they had the money to do so.

"I had been hoping something like this would happen for a long time." Cobb, a 26-year veteran of the district attorney's office, said about the new degree program. "When I heard they were offering this, I ran up here and said I would love to teach here."

Many law enforcement agencies in the state provide tuition assistance as a means of recruiting and retaining personnel, he said. The Clayton State program makes it easier for those who work in law enforcement to further their education and advance their careers.

"Nationally, there's just a real interest in criminal justice," Demmitt said. "Part of it is fueled by the media. I don't think the media created the interest. I think the media tapped into an interest already there."

He said it began about 10 years ago with O.J. Simpson's murder trial. The nation became enthralled with forensics after receiving a "behind the scenes" look at the criminal justice system.

"The more people see, the more they get interested," Demmitt said.

Despite the interest sparked by the television shows, he called CSI the "most erroneous show out there," combining three real professions into one television character for more dramatic effect.

Television investigators discover fingerprints everywhere, but that's not the case in actual police work, Cobb said.

In its initial semester, the program is offering primarily lecture classes, but next semester will offer internships and hands-on classes, Demmitt said.

"Once you get an internship, it's an excellent opportunity to get a foot in the door," he said.

For more information on the Criminal Justice degree, contact Demmitt at kevindemmitt@mail.clayton.edu or (770) 960-4372.