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Northwestern College partners with Oak Lawn Police for Investigations Course

Northwestern College’s Criminal Investigations class this fall is benefitting from a partnership with the Oak Lawn Police Department. Oak Lawn detectives will be visiting the Investigations class three times during the quarter so as to share their real life experiences with students who are seeking careers in the field of criminal justice. The particular focus of the visits will be on the mechanics of criminal investigations and the role of detectives during the course of such investigations. Last week the first visit was by Detective Daniel Matuszak, a fifteen (15) year veteran of the Oak Lawn Police Department.

During the course of Detective Matuszak’s visit he provided the students with an overview of his role as a detective before he delved into more specifics. Of particular note, he shared with the class a summary of the ongoing investigation of the recent knife assault of a 26 year old female jogger in Founders Park not far from the College. Detective Matuszak was able to use the case to provide examples for the students on the mechanics of an investigation. Further, he talked about cold cases (crimes that have remained unsolved for multiple years) and the particular nuances which detectives are faced with when assigned to a cold case unit, or when re-opening a cold case after new information comes to light.

Finally, Detective Matuszak explained the coordinated efforts that are made with investigations within particular geographic areas. For example, he expounded on the Drug Enforcement Agency task force that members of the Oak Lawn Police Department sit on, lending their expertise. A second example that Detective Matuszak provided involved the Police Department’s membership in the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force (SSMCTF), along with 53 other south suburban police departments. Approximately 150 investigators make up the task force team; Detective Matuszak was tapped to serve as one of its supervisors. He described how the SSMCTF provides comprehensive investigative services to all of the participating member agencies (only when assistance is requested), which primarily is initiated when significant crimes occur such as homicides, non-parental kidnappings, and other exceptionally heinous crimes. More specifically, the members of the task force, he explained, assist with the investigation of crimes which would require a substantial commitment of resources for a prolonged period of time, which most suburban police departments on their own would not be able to sustain. Due to the caliber of officers making up the task force (experts in particular fields such as evidence processing, canvassing, interviewing, interrogations, etc), the SSMCTF is able to apply complex and unusual investigative techniques and expertise towards the solving of these major crimes.

Northwestern College’s partnership with the Oak Lawn Police Department and its Criminal Justice Department was initiated by Criminal Justice Instructor Charles Chigas, a 35 year law enforcement veteran of the Oak Lawn Police Department, with 10 of those years as its Chief of Police. The partnership was designed in hopes of better engaging the College’s Criminal Justice students by teaching them the real workings of the course subject matter (Investigations) through the eyes of veteran detectives who have applied it in the field and are able to share those experiences with the students. The detectives will explain their roles and duties as criminal investigators, describing tasks such as gathering evidence, following up on leads, apprehending suspects, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and making arrests. They will also explain what it takes to become a detective and what it takes to succeed in the position.

Detective Matuszak visited Northwestern College’s Criminal Investigations class during week 2 of the quarter, while two other Oak Lawn detectives will speak to the students during weeks 6 and 10. As the course progresses along with the proficiency of the students in the subject matter, the level of the detectives’ presentations will intensify accordingly. Each detective’s presentation will cover approximately six chapters of the course textbook and include the personal insights of each detective with respect to those topics. By introducing their own experiences with real investigations in the field, the detectives will be able to provide real world examples of techniques put into practice, including techniques applied successfully as well as unsuccessfully.

Instructors for all of Northwestern College’s Criminal Justice Program courses are active or retired law enforcement officers that bring their own real-life experiences into the classrooms. Chigas had introduced the first such multi-presentation initiative of the partnership during the Summer of 2014 when he initiated three presentations by juvenile justice officers into the Juvenile Justice course curriculum. The concept was well received and is now being introduced in the Criminal Investigations course.