Truth, justice and no gimmicks | Dr. Paul L. Friedman
When Crime Scene Technology students enter the program’s lab for the first time, they’re always underwhelmed.
“There are no holograms or neon lights, The Who isn’t playing in the background and Marg Helgenberger [of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” fame] doesn’t work here,” says Dr. Paul Friedman.
Likewise, Friedman dashes the hopes of criminal justice students who set their sights on becoming criminal profilers. “There’s really no such thing. People just don’t run around profiling crime scenes in real life.” Instead it’s an ancillary duty, and even the FBI has a very small unit.
“They’ve grown up with this image that TV has given them, but it’s not reality.”
“It’s hard for some students to adjust because they’ve grown up with this image that TV has given them, but it’s not reality,” says Friedman.
He should know. Friedman’s been in the criminal justice field since he graduated from Palm Beach State’s Police Academy in 1977. He served in various law enforcement capacities, including 15 years as a detective and crime scene investigator for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and became an adjunct instructor at the College in the 1980s. In 2001, he joined PBSC full time as a coordinator for the Criminal Justice Institute, and then in quick succession became an associate professor, professor and department chair. He earned his doctorate in education in 2013.
While Friedman brings his lifelong experience to the classroom, he focuses on giving students real-world experiences of their own. In Crime Scene Technology—a program he started in 2003—students earn an A.S. degree or College Credit Certificate, but also graduate with resume-building experience under their belts. Almost from day one, students go out in the program’s crime scene vehicle and function as crime scene investigators, assisting Palm Springs, Lake Clarke Shores and other area police departments on real cases.
“They’re not being paid, but they have to maintain a work ethic – not only for themselves, but because they also represent the College,” says Friedman, who emphasizes teamwork. “You can’t go out there and do this by yourself.”
Second-year students are often on call for an entire week. “If the phone rings at 2 o’clock in the morning, they’ll run out, meet the police and participate,” continues Friedman. Students also volunteer at public events, to fingerprint children for example, and in return develop a spirit of civic responsibility.
A crime scene investigation invariably leads to somebody going to court, and students are taught how to testify as expert witnesses. “They have to learn to be unbiased. They’re not there as an advocate for any side. The truth is in the physical evidence,” says Friedman. The final exam comes in the form of a moot court proceeding with an actual judge and attorneys present. “The students get up on that stand and undergo the rigors of cross examination. It’s the toughest final they’ll ever take.”
Friedman’s Criminal Justice A.S. degree classes concentrate more on theory and Socratic discussion, but “textbooks are definitely not the total teaching tool.” He also assigns real-life projects. “In Police Administration, I have my students review local agency budgets and create their own. You want a SWAT team, a marine unit and a canine? That’s great, but how are you going to pay for it and what’s its relative need and how do you measure that?”
Students describe Friedman as a hard, but fair teacher. He concurs. “My biggest goal is to try to ignite some passion in the students, as well as push critical thinking skills, and, of course, accountability, responsibility and integrity. When you walk into public service – whether it’s police, fire, crime scene, teaching, anything in public service – you have to think of the good of the whole.”
need to ask…
Q How did you get started?
A I grew up in Far Rockaway, N.Y. and originally went to school to become a funeral director. I was doing an internship at Bellevue [Hospital], embalming indigent bodies. One of my heroes is Dr. Milton Helpern, considered by most to be the father of forensic medicine. He was the chief medical examiner of New York City. I watched him do a forensic autopsy and the hook was in. The whole world of forensics was in its infancy then. I’ve been obsessed ever since.
Q Do you have any teaching maxims?
A Think for yourselves! I have only one rule for class discussion: We’re not going to have a dinner table conversation. There’s going to be no yelling and screaming. I’ll say ‘if you want to espouse your opinion, I welcome it, but you better have some facts to verify what you’re saying. I’m not interested in what your father or great-uncle says.’ It’s important that they develop opinions based on research and strategic and quantitative analysis, not just what is said at home.
Q Why do you like to teach?
A When you have passion for your subject material, it makes it that much easier to teach it. I’m very fortunate. I worked some really great cases over my career, and now I get to impart that information to the next generation and that feels good.