CHS, WCSO launch new criminal justice program

CHIPLEY – Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Chipley High School have teamed up to create the school district’s first criminal justice program.

The Criminal Justice Operations Program is certification program approved and structured by the Florida Department of Education. Similar to the others such as culinary and business, students can earn varying degrees of professional certification depending on years completed.

The idea was proposed by Washington County SheriffÂ’s Deputy Dakota Jarvis, who also leads the WCSO Explorers youth program.

“The sheriff and I got to talking one day back in March, and he said he said he wished we had more to offer the kids. I mentioned the criminal justice program I completed while attending in high school in Clewiston, and that piqued the sheriff’s interest. He told me to gather the information and we would try to make it happen here.”

Jarvis got to work, contacting his former high school instructors, as well as other education and law enforcement resources. Before long, Jarvis made the presentation to Sheriff Kevin Crews and Washington County School Superintendent Joe Taylor. By the summer, the course was on the books and ready for its inaugural class.

“I sent a survey out to seventh and eighth grade students at Roulhac Middle School to gauge interest in the various programs offered at CHS,” said Jarvis. “We had an overwhelming response, with the criminal justice program second only to the culinary program.”

Currently, there are about 60 students enrolled in the first-year class. Schools with similar criminal justice programs around the state report beginning with a similar number and growing to more than 200 to 300 over the first four years. 

Jarvis says the first-year class focuses on the foundations of the criminal justice system. Students recently spent time evaluating the stateÂ’s crime rates, focusing on crime rates in Washington County. Soon, they will participate in mock courtroom exercises.

The second-year class will move into more hands-on activities such as becoming first aid and CPR certified and learning defensive tactics. “The second-year class will use the same Florida Department of Law Enforcement textbook as basic recruits at Florida Panhandle Technical College,” said Jarvis. “After that second year is complete, they will actually be eligible to become certified as a Class D unarmed security guard once they turn 18.” 

By time students reach their third and fourth years, they will be able to take part in forensics and crime scene training. Jarvis says many of the training hours can transition over to programs at FPTC and other colleges.

Once they turn 18, students have the opportunity to earn certifications as a 911 dispatcher, law enforcement officer, or corrections officer. 

While the course does provide the building blocks of a criminal justice career, Jarvis states its purpose is not to recruit law enforcement officers. 

“Regardless of a studentÂ’s career path, this class will help them understand the laws and the process of the criminal justice system,” he said. “That understanding will help them form educated opinions about current events, as well as informed real-life decisions.” 

Student JaÂ’Corian Guster hopes the course will help lay a strong foundation as he pursues a career as a criminal defense attorney. 

“It’s very interactive, and we are already learning so much, about not only about how the system works, but about crime trends specific to our community,” said Guster. “The different offenses and all the theories that go into criminal law, the way they break it down, it’s all interesting. The overall experience we’re getting from the class and the certifications are definitely helping us prepare for the career path.”

Jarvis said he hopes to eventually expand the course to Vernon High School.