Chief Livesay lays down law in HCC course

Criminal justice class gets to learn from county's top officer

September 26, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

On a recent Monday night, Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay stood before a classroom of Howard Community College students and posed a provocative question: Are criminals born or made?

They are born, answered one student. No, countered others, they are made.

From there, with quiet promptings from Livesay, the conversation turned to genetics, poverty, drugs and alcohol, conflicting interest groups, mental illness, the insanity defense, personal responsibility, Miranda rights and suppressed memories.

So began another session of Introduction to Criminal Justice, a semester-long class taught -- for the first time that anyone at the college can remember -- by the county's chief of police.

Although his schedule is already brimming with meetings and commitments day and night, Livesay said he wanted to teach the class because he thinks it will help strengthen ties with the college and with the community.

He also hopes the class might help him recruit officers and encourage all of his students -- who are at an age when peer pressure can be intense -- to live upright lives.

"I think when they're approached, or they hear things, they'll take a second look and say, `There's more to this,' " Livesay said.

Livesay teaches the class -- one of four introductory criminal justice classes the college is offering this semester -- on Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 7: 20.

He said that schedule leaves him just enough time to get to the many community meetings he attends as part of his job, which usually start at 7: 30 p.m. or 8 p.m.

Although HCC's criminal justice classes are often taught by former or current police officers, Livesay said it's the first time he has taught one -- and he was a little worried about it, especially walking into that first class three or four weeks ago.

"I had butterflies in my stomach," he said. "This is the first new job I've had in 27 years."

Patrick O'Guinn, coordinator of the criminal justice program at the college, said about a third of the approximately 300 students enrolled in criminal justice classes want to become police officers. Another third, he said, simply want to learn their rights and how the system works.

Livesay said seven of his 14 students want to become police officers. They are a diverse group: men, women, black, white, some fresh out of high school and others approaching middle age.

Livesay's curriculum, approved by HCC officials, includes subjects that range from the death penalty to the "history and structure of law enforcement." His teaching style is to prompt debate on sticky issues, often with local examples, before teaching law and legal precedent.

One of his main goals, Livesay said, is to teach the students that law enforcement in real life isn't the same as it looks on television shows.

"Television about cops is just so far off base," he said. "It just doesn't happen that way."

In the police department, Livesay is known as a listener, a man who hears all sides before taking decisive action. It is the same technique he uses in his classes, where he lets students debate an issue before weighing in with his opinion.

In class, he divulged his own beliefs: that criminals are made, not born; that insane people should not be held responsible for their actions; that Miranda rights do more good than harm even though some believe they chill the efforts of law enforcement.

He also told the class that some so-called "repressed memories" are planted, not repressed, and gave them some tips on interviewing and interrogation.

Police, he said, often have only one chance to get the information they need and rely heavily on psychological manipulation. As an example, he talked about a woman who police believed had killed her husband. He said police extensively researched her background, then, before the interrogation, displayed pictures to remind her of her children and her childhood.

"You only get one shot at an interview, and you either get it or you don't," Livesay said.

For a first-time college instructor, Livesay covered a lot of ground in a short time and elicited responses from all but the shyest students in the class. When a student would go off on a tangent, he would deftly change the subject -- a skill learned during community meetings that stretched longer into the night than anyone liked.

His students say they never expected to have the police chief as a teacher.

"He's humble, he's patient, he's kind, he's got all the qualities," said Fredua Prempeh, who works full time as a security guard at the Columbia Mall and wants to be a police officer. "I like him very much."

Although Livesay is known for remaining calm and stoic in even the tensest situations, at least one student -- a freshman, no less -- said he noticed the chief's nervousness that first day.

"He just seemed a little stumped at times," said John Deatherage of Columbia, who wants to work in the state's attorney's office.

But he said the chief quickly recovered and compares favorably to other instructors.

"He's one of the best," Deatherage said.

Pub Date: 9/26/99

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