Mock Homicide Taking Place on Cal State East Bay Campus

  • BY Cal State East Bay
  • November 8, 2017

A murder weapon. Shell casings. Evidence tents littering the grass. Investigators picking through a crime scene, identifying witnesses and suspects, and taking photos and notes.  

It’s a scene most of us have only seen on television, but for Cal State East Bay students in Assistant Professor Michelle Rippy’s Advanced Criminal Investigation class, it’s the setting for their final exam.

Taking place Nov. 13 in Meiklejohn Hall Room 2002 on the university’s Hayward campus is a mock homicide scene that has been carefully staged by Rippy (a Cal State East Bay alumna), and is recreated from her former case work with the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office.

“This is actually based off a crime scene that I worked that was prosecuted, so the evidence is going to be similar, placed in a similar manner, and some of it is easily passed over,” Rippy said. “There’s gum evidence, for example, which you might think ‘Oh, it’s just gum on a college campus,’ but it’s really important evidence for the teeth marks and DNA.”

There will be no body, but Rippy has included clothing at the crime scene, which she says is common in the field, as transporting a wounded victim often means personal items — sometimes with important factors such as bullet holes or stab markings — will be left behind.

To solve the case, the Cal State East Bay students, mostly seniors working toward careers in law enforcement, will be separated into teams that represent police, evidence processing, investigation, members of the press and others, and challenged to approach the crime in a way that prepares them for the professional realities of the future.

“They don’t claim to like group projects,” Rippy said. “But I explained to them, when I’m on a scene, I’m paired with fellow detectives, investigators and police officers that I didn’t choose. That’s how this works, and you have to work together, communicate and share information.”

Taryn Stevenson, a criminal justice major who completed an internship with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office last summer and is hoping to be rehired this year, said the mock crime scene is exciting, yet also nerve-wracking.

“I know it isn’t a real-life situation, but I’m going to treat it as one.”

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a murder or a homicide — and I’m looking forward to it being on campus, but I’m not sure how other students are going to react to it,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go into law enforcement or detective work or investigation, so the fact that I get to collect evidence and mark evidence will give me an opportunity to see how it goes and if this is what I want to do. I know it isn’t a real-life situation, but I’m going to treat it as one.”

The process will not only include an assessment of the crime scene itself, but submitting evidence for “analysis.” If students request the correct tests for the correct items, Rippy will give them lab results that build toward the conclusion of the case. A press conference will stand in for a final exam, and include each of the teams being questioned by “the press” about their respective roles in the case, which the students have also been preparing for.

“Unfortunately, with the recent shooting in Las Vegas, we’ve had some opportunities to watch press conferences as a class and really go over the type of questions that are being asked and to think about the complexities of how evidence is handled, the details of the victims and what can be shared about them,” Rippy said. “I hope the experience just adds a little bit of something extra for our students when they go out to look for internships or jobs.”

To ensure the safety of the campus community, and avoid false 911 calls or overly alarmed passersby, Rippy explained that the crime scene is being crafted with the awareness of the University Police Department and the area will be well marked with “fake crime scene” signs. There will be no actual weapons or blood used in the recreation of the mock homicide.