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Lewis and Clark criminal justice studies being expanded

Lewis and Clark High School criminal justice teacher Leon Strigotte uses an episode of the TV show “Law & Order” to illustrate the different legal issues facing law enforcement during an investigation. (Colin Mulvany)
Lewis and Clark High School criminal justice teacher Leon Strigotte uses an episode of the TV show “Law & Order” to illustrate the different legal issues facing law enforcement during an investigation. (Colin Mulvany)

Even a man nicknamed “SuperCop” by his peers gets distracted sometimes.

After all, it’s not every day Atifete Jahjaga, the president of Kosovo, calls you personally.

“I actually got a phone call from her when we were in class,” said Leon Strigotte, a teacher at Lewis and Clark High School. “I said, ‘This one I gotta take, guys.’ ”

Strigotte has worn many badges in law enforcement over a four-decade career, both in the United States and abroad. Now, at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, he’s standing in front of about 30 high school students, with “Law & Order” playing on a projector.

“These things are not a joke. These things are real,” Strigotte said about the episode.

Strigotte is helping rebuild Lewis and Clark’s criminal justice program, which became defunct a year ago when the previous teacher retired. The criminal justice class is several years old, but Strigotte is expanding the program.

The class outlines the administration of justice from arrest to conviction. Strigotte hopes students will learn to look at the criminal justice system with a critical and ethical eye, and he draws on his own experiences to help teach them. In 1999, Strigotte worked with the United Nations in Kosovo as an international police officer, helping to rebuild a police force as the country struggled with the aftermath of war.

He also teaches at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Roswell, N.M., a State Department-run program that brings in foreign delegates for instruction in policing.

“He’s a great guy,” said Cameron Olsen, a senior in Strigotte’s class. “He’s really passionate about what he does, and he’s very experienced in his field. He really understands his stuff.”

Theresa Meyer, Lewis and Clark’s assistant principal, said Strigotte’s approach and experience was an instant hit when the school was looking to hire a new teacher.

“He left the room, and we were like ‘OK, we’re done,’ ” she said.

The yearlong course is designed to teach about the legal implications of all decisions made during the criminal justice process. Students recently finished studying the U.S. Constitution and are now applying the laws to case studies.

The class is still in its early phases and will improve as it grows, Meyer said. Administrators and Strigotte hope students will eventually earn credits through Spokane Community College and complete credited internships with local criminal justice officials.

In the program’s early years, students completed internships at the Lewis and Clark COPS branch, helping the school resource officer. Strigotte is helping students organize internships in all areas of law enforcement, including the police department, forensic labratories and local attorneys.

Sophomore Elizabeth Syrotchen plans on studying law at Gonzaga University to become a defense attorney, she said.

“I like the idea of bringing the best out of people and getting to prove that someone’s innocent when everyone else thinks they’re not,” Syrotchen said.

Carmen Haro, a junior in the criminal justice class, plans to pursue a career in federal law enforcement as either an FBI agent or a U.S. marshal.

“It’s different,” she said. “It’s not something most women would want to go into.”

Haro took the class hoping to learn more about the field and now intends to interview federal agents for more hands-on experience.

“I’ve heard that when you get started and get your foot in the door you can work up, and that’s what I want to do.”

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