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Sleuth School : Former Officer's Investigation Class a Springboard for Some and a Police Refresher Course for Others

March 11, 1993|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dec. 8, 1992:

A male body is discovered slouched against a stall in a women's restroom at Ventura College. The white T-shirt on the corpse has been ripped by several bullets and is soaked in blood.

The first cop on the scene is Officer Dungood, Ima Dungood. She makes a preliminary search and calls the police department to request a detective.

A detective, make that about 30 detectives, arrive at 1105 hours to further study the crime scene. They search for evidence, make a list of requests for the forensics laboratory, talk to witnesses, determine what will be needed from the medical examiner, and prepare a crime report and sketch of the scene.

This is a critical case and much is riding on it.

No, not life and death, but pass or fail.

These detectives are actually students and their reports, which are due on Dec. 15 at 1700 hours, are the final exam for Prof. Richard Goff's criminal investigation class, for which the bathroom murder scene was staged.

*

Jan. 19, 1993:

It's 1745 hours (5:45 p.m. for those who don't normally write police reports). Goff parks his 1990 Harley in a teacher's space and heads to his office. He has about 15 minutes before the start of his first criminal investigation class of the spring semester.

Goff's small office is packed with stuff: news clips, books, old police photos, a "No Smoking" sign (which doesn't deter Goff from working on a cigar), a picture of his three grown sons--Mark, Matthew, and Richard II--and a bust of Elvis.

Upon entering his office Goff removes his leather jacket and exchanges it for a slightly more formal sport coat on a hangar on the inside of his door. It's part of his teaching uniform: blue jeans, boots and sleeveless gray sweat shirt (what better way to show off his tattoo).

He grabs a few books and a couple of handouts and proceeds to class. Students are waiting for Goff as he takes the cigar stub out of his mouth and places it on a railing outside the room. He'll retrieve it after class.

"I can't take it inside," he says. "The kids don't like that."

The 49-year-old former policeman enters the class and commands instant attention. It may have something to do with his offbeat nature, his size--he's 6-foot-2--or his confident demeanor.

"Looking for 'Introduction to Invertebrate Biology?' " he asks each tardy student who peeks into his classroom on that first evening. The students, bewildered but undaunted, find seats as the other class members laugh at the banter. They will laugh many times throughout the three-hour class. As one student says during a break, it's like a comedy act.

That may be, but it's a comedy act with a purpose.

AJ 8 (Criminal Investigation) is part of Ventura College's extensive Administration of Justice program. Thirty-seven courses are being offered this semester; 16 of them (or 30 units) are required for an associate in science degree.

There are two full-time faculty members in the department, Goff and Bob Camarillo, a former deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. They share the load with 10 part-timers, all of whom work in the criminal justice field. Emphasis is placed on criminal law, the state Penal Code, the legal aspect of evidence, criminal justice report writing, criminal procedures and police community relations.

The goal of the program, Goff said, is to do one of three things--to prepare students to major in a criminal justice discipline at a university, to prepare them to go straight into police or correctional jobs, or to supplement the education of those already in the criminal justice field.

Goff's criminal investigation class is an elective in the associate degree program. Regardless of a student's motive for taking the class, the teacher is determined that each student leaves knowing the fundamentals of investigation.

He's going to do that, in part, by sharing his real-life experiences.

Goff served as a foot patrolman with the Tactical Patrol Force in Harlem in the mid-1960s, as a homicide detective in Manhattan for about five years, and, briefly, with the Ventura Police Department.

"My basic rule is that you can't gather too much evidence. You can always throw evidence out, but you can't necessarily go back later and find it," he said. "The major weak link in investigations is poor evidence gathering."

In that first class session one thing is immediately evident--Goff will tell it like it is in a manner very much his own.

"In the old days, we'd threaten this guy or beat him or trick him, whatever . . . and we'd get the direct evidence," he tells his new class. "Detecting is a heck of a lot harder than threatening."

Pretty soon Goff is quoting Shakespeare to make a point and making exaggerated noises while describing an autopsy. And he's explaining the behavior of overworked law-enforcement people: "Everybody's up to their butts in alligators and they forget why they're in the swamp."

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