A student takes notes in MacEwan University's crime lab within the Police and Investigations program. The crime lab engages students in simulated investigation activities based on real-life cases, so they can learn how to respond to changing circumstances and how to process a crime scene for evidence. (All photos were taken before COVID-19.)

Crime labs, field placements and faculty excellence

March 22, 2021 | Society

Jay Cunningham may be in the field protecting migratory birds one day, or partnering with border security agents to inspect incoming wildlife products the next, but every chance he gets, he returns to MacEwan University to talk to students about his time in the Police and Investigations program.

"I like to show them some of the things we've seized at the border over the years," says the MacEwan alum who graduated in 2016. "By pulling out elephant tusks, rhino horns and 30-foot-long python skins, I want to show them that in Canada, we're holding up our part of the convention to protect endangered species."

When Cunningham retired from the Canadian Armed Forces after 11 years of service, he was looking for a career in law enforcement and found that his interests matched what was being taught in MacEwan's Police and Investigations program.

With two streams of study – policing or investigations – the two-year diploma gives students practical skills through a combination of in-class theory, hands-on activities, career-building field placements and access to faculty members with decades of experience.

Sessional faculty member Stewart Callioux, who has 27 years' experience working for the Edmonton Police Service (EPS), says one of the highlights of teaching is being able to share his experiences with students.

"The best feedback I get is when I hear from students who are in the field say they really understood things better because of the real-life examples we gave them," says Callioux, who is also an alum of the MacEwan program.

He adds that a big part of the program is helping students understand important subject matter, including criminal law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so that they have the confidence to find the right career in law enforcement.

For Marie Bolianatz, her goal since high school had been to work for EPS. When it came time to start her field placement, she worked at the front counter at EPS's Southeast Division Station and took part in multiple ride-alongs with patrol and the Crime Scene Investigations Unit, and the eye-opening experience confirmed that policing was exactly where she wanted to be.

"I got to see the job firsthand, helping people on a daily basis and expanding my network," she says. "It was one of the best parts of the program."

Bolianatz graduated from the program in 2017 and within six months was recruited by EPS. Currently employed as a patrol constable, she says no day is ever the same. One moment, she might be dealing with a family dispute, and the next, she's investigating a stolen vehicle.

"The number one reason why I wanted to be a police officer is because I wanted to make an impact on someone's life," she says. "I'm not naive enough to think that I'm going to change the world, but the way I saw was that if I can help at least one person in the entirety of my career and impact their life for the good, then I'll know I'm doing my job and succeeding in my career goals."

Learning new skills in the crime lab


Before they go out into the field, students put their newly learned skills to the test in MacEwan's crime lab, a unique feature of the Police and Investigations program. Students walk into a classroom reconfigured into a crime scene and test out investigative techniques for collecting, examining, preserving and analyzing physical evidence as part of forensic science courses.

The crime lab is also used in scenario-based training, in which students act as investigators at active and static crime scenes. The observational skills students develop during crime lab scenarios are vital in the investigative work they will do as graduates. So is knowing how to defuse tense situations and talk to people in crisis – both topics covered in a two-day tactical communication course taught by Callioux.

"Your voice is your best tool in law enforcement," says Cunningham. "Effective communication is key no matter what your role is."

Cunningham discovered during his time in Police and Investigations that there are so many more career options than he thought possible. While studying at MacEwan, he worked as a seasonal conservation officer with Alberta Environment and Parks. "A lot of what we're learning is relevant to any level of law enforcement."

Now a wildlife enforcement officer with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Cunningham says he still uses those lessons every day.

"In what I do now, all the things I learned — note-taking, interviewing and photography skills, the theory classes for Canadian law, Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the psychology and sociology classes — came together when I actually got out in the field and started interacting with the public," says Cunningham. "That education absolutely helps every day, and definitely molded and shaped me to where I am now."



How students work out with – and learn from – Edmonton Police Service officers

The Run with Recruiters program gives MacEwan students a chance to prepare for a future in policing. 

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