The Olivet College Criminal Justice Program has partnered with the Calhoun County Prosecutor and Battle Creek Police Department to launch a course that could help solve decades-old cold cases, while providing real investigative experience for students.
High-achieving criminal justice majors at Olivet will work closely with the agencies to examine crimes that have long been unsolved in the Battle Creek area. The students, who must apply for the course by submitting a letter of interest and professional resume, will work one-on-one with Olivet faculty and officials from each agency to reopen specific cases, examine evidence, recommend interviews with witnesses and uncover potential new leads in unsolved crimes.
“There are many positive outcomes associated with this partnership – one of the most important is that it allows Olivet students to be a resource to the prosecutor’s office and police department, and brings a new set of eyes to these cases,” said Phil Reed, associate professor of criminal justice at Olivet College.
“These are some of the best and brightest students in our program, and our expectations are high for bringing new developments to the cases we will examine this year. The benefit to our students is that they will gain real, hands-on investigation experience.”
Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert said working with Olivet College “provides new hope” to the families of victims of these crimes. Gilbert recently assigned a part-time investigator in his office to begin working on unsolved cases, and he said Olivet College’s cold case students will serve as an additional resource to the agencies. “Families of the lost seek justice years after their tragedies. The heartbreak is always with them,” Gilbert said. “
Funding for cold case investigations is either limited or nonexistent. All potential sources of quality assistance have to be examined while protecting the integrity of each investigation. With Olivet’s program, students are not only being trained by seasoned former Battle Creek detectives in a controlled environment, they are gaining experience working closely with current Battle Creek investigators, providing additional investigative resources and new eyes to old cases.”
Battle Creek Chief of Police Jim Blocker sees opportunity in the partnership. “For investigators, cold cases are never truly cold. This partnership provides an excellent opportunity to tackle what the Bureau of Justice Assistance call the most difficult and frustrating cases that a detective will face,” Blocker said. “Advancement in technology, tools, and in this case, alternative perspective just may be the edge detectives need to advance the case. We hope these students benefit, grow, and learn to appreciate the work, profession and most of all, empathize with the victims’ loved ones left behind.”
The class began at the start of Olivet’s fall semester, Aug. 30, and consists of 12 criminal justice students. The students will be divided into three groups of four, with each of Olivet’s full-time criminal justice faculty members leading a section. Three different cold cases from Calhoun County, which have already been determined by the faculty and partnering agencies, will be reopened and examined during the course.
Regina Armstrong, Ph.D., (center) associate professor and director of the Criminal Justice Program, and Mike Sherzer, (right) assistant professor of criminal justice, will team-teach the course with Reed (left). All former experts in law enforcement and corrections, the faculty members have decades of combined experience in the criminal justice field.
Reed has been at Olivet College since retiring as commander from the Battle Creek Police Department in 2003. During his time at BCPD, he was responsible for developing the department’s cold case team in 2001. He conceived the idea for a cold case course at Olivet College after recognizing the benefits it would bring to the agencies and students, and the possibility of closure for the families of victims. “Police departments are stretched thin for resources and this is a good way to address the need to keep examining those cases that have not yet been solved,” Reed said. “Our students genuinely want to help these families find closure, and we are fortunate to be able to work with these agencies toward that goal.”