Stockton Criminal Justice professors Dr. Christine Tartaro and Dr. Joshua Duntley hosted their 15th annual CSI Camp, a criminal justice summer camp for high school students. This year’s camp was held over the course of four weeks, with four different groups of students gathering at Stockton to learn about careers in the criminal justice system.
CSI campers can expect to learn about all facets of the criminal justice system, including police, courts, and corrections, and meet professionals in all related fields. Some of these professionals include a medical examiner, correctional police officer, probation officer, lawyer, social worker, and victim services professional. This year, campers were also afforded the opportunity to meet Federal Air Marshals during a tour of the Transportation Security Administration Training Center.
Campers began the week by checking in with residential staff, then moving into Stockton dorms for the week. After lunch, campers sat through lectures on corrections, crime scene processing, and causes of death in criminal investigations.
The following morning, students arrived to a bloody crime scene in Alton Auditorium. It was here that students were broken into teams of first responders, evidence loggers and collectors, crime scene diagramming experts, photographers, videographers, and medio-legal death investigators. Campers later relaxed with Stockton’s favorite K-9 dogs–Hemi and Freya–accompanied by their handler Lt. Tracy Stuart. Students ended the evening by interviewing witnesses involved in the case.
Subsequent days involved guest speakers, career lectures, and casework towards the students’ upcoming criminal trial where they acted as lawyers and expert witnesses. Trial prep required students to work together in defense and prosecution teams to craft direct or cross examination questions for their expert witnesses. Attorneys and witnesses collaborated to create a trial narrative compelling enough to win over a jury. Once the jury delivered their verdict, students cheered, and then they were finally allowed to watch the camp’s “What Really Happened” video, where camp staff reenacted the murders.
Having celebrated their 15th camp this year, Dr. Tartaro and Dr. Duntley discussed the camp’s origin, history, and some of their favorite moments. The camp began in 2007 when Dr. Duntley approached his mentor, Dr. Tartaro, about creating a camp where students could learn about how to process a mock crime scene and collect evidence. With these ideas in mind, the two have grown this camp into an international sensation that has gotten media attention from the Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, SBS Korean News, CBS Philly, and more.
Amid COVID-19 concerns, the camp staff took special precautions to keep campers safe this year. All campers were required to present a negative COVID-19 test prior to arriving at Stockton, and unvaccinated campers were tested during their week at camp. Campers were also split into three pods to minimize group intermingling during travel, meals, and group work.
Unfortunately, students in 2020 were not able to experience an in-person CSI Camp. However, many students participated in a virtual version of camp, which allowed for a greater geographic net of students to participate. Dr. Tartaro noted, “we had 13 or 14 different states represented, and it allowed kids who weren’t going to come to Jersey to participate in camps.” Several students who participated in a virtual camp returned to participate in the 2021 in-person experience, including students from California and New Jersey. “[In the virtual camps,] there was nothing hands-on, but we did the best we could. One cool thing about being online is we were able to contact our best actors, [who were] amazing,” Dr. Tartaro added.
Dr. Tartaro shared some of her fondest memories from her years of working on CSI Camp. “I love it when I walk into a classroom at 9:30 at night and the kids are all engaged and working, and shouting out different theories,” she explained. “It’s just amazing, I love it when I see that.” Similarly, she recognizes how field trips can impact the students’ experiences. Trips to the County Jail, which were cancelled this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, are typically a fan-favorite among students.
Dr. Duntley has his own favorite memories about CSI Camp. “The most obvious [highlight] is how excited [the students] are when they get the verdict for the mock trial, and then they get excited again when they watch the ‘What Really Happened Video,'” he explained.
“I think another big highlight about camp is how excited they are to investigate the witnesses.” Dr. Duntley added. “I know they’re all very excited initially to investigate the crime scene, but its one of their first reality checks. They think its glamorous and fun, and when they’re actually having to systematically go through and do it, some of them go, ‘this is monotonous.'”
Dr. Tartaro also enjoys seeing Stockton students who have previously attended camp. “I love it when students walk up to me and they’re like, ‘I’m a sophomore, I went to camp!’ and they’re all different majors.”
Emily Nalas, one of the camp’s undergraduate counselors, was a previous CSI Camp participant. CSI Camp made an impact on Emily’s academic and professional interests by giving her the opportunity to explore different facets of the criminal justice system. “My experience at CSI Camp was amazing, and without it I wouldn’t have found my true interest,” she stated.
“As a camp counselor, my experience was even more fun and crazy–in a good way,” she added. Emily used her previous camp experience to become a knowledgeable camp counselor. “I was able to give the [students] advice that I’ve learned through finding my own criminal justice passion.”
Geldy Nunez, a graduate student in the Masters of Criminal Justice Program, worked as the camp medical director this year. Geldy has used the camp to add to the criminal justice knowledge she has accumulated in her undergraduate career. “As a criminal justice major, I was able to learn so many things during my first year because it was like I was attending the camp,” Geldy noted. “This past summer, I was actually able to teach one of the camp lectures, which was absolutely amazing.”
One of Geldy’s favorite camp memories is seeing the students grow over the course of their five days at Stockton. “I have enjoyed working at the camp so much. From the first day at check-in until the trial, it is amazing to work with the kids and see how they transition in just a few days to pull off the trial so well,” Geldy explained.
Despite successfully having zero COVID-19 cases this year, it is still not clear what 2022’s CSI Camp will look like. The New Jersey 2021 COVID-19 Youth Summer Camp Standards Guidelines was not released until April 28, 2021, just months before camps started. Following this same schedule will continue to leave many camps unsure of what the next year will hold.
Aside from COVID-19 restrictions, university vehicle restrictions are also a concern for the upcoming camp year. “I think the big limitation moving forward will be vehicles for travel,” Dr. Duntley explained. New university travel restrictions limit who is allowed to drive Stockton vehicles, which will cause further difficulty for camp field trips.
Overall, the goal of camp directors and staff is to continue to facilitate student learning. Dr. Duntley highlighted, “the idea is to continue to offer more micro-educational experiences, the snapshots into different parts of the criminal justice field. Ultimately our goal is to continue doing that.”
If you are interested in learning more about CSI Camp, visit the camp website or contact email@example.com.