Family ties forced Josue Ramirez into gang life. The 21-year-old Federal Way resident was living in Los Angeles, and having heart trouble from the criminal pressure.
“You live or die by it,” he says.
After more than a decade in L.A., Ramirez and his family eventually fled to Washington, nearly eight years ago.
Instead of “destroying his life,” Ramirez has vowed to “help his life.”
That’s what drove him to the new criminal justice program at Kaplan College in Renton. Ramirez says he’s the first in three or four generations to escape the tradition of gang violence. He is eager to set a good example for his 16-year-old brother.
Ramirez has been in class a little over a month. If he stays on track, he’ll earn an associate of science degree in about 17 months. From there Ramirez plans to attend police academy and become a police officer.
Kaplan has many tools to help him on his way. The south Renton campus has crime and evidence collection labs for crime-scene photography and reconstruction, a mock courtroom manned by a volunteer judge, even a firearm simulator.
Featuring 800 scenarios and 2,300 possible outcomes, the firearm simulator is used to teach law-enforcement students when and how to use a gun. Students use a real Glock handgun, equipped with a laser sensor instead of a barrel of bullets. They shoot the gun at images on a wall-sized screen. White circles on the screen show where the bullets land.
Night instructor Ken Matelski is range master. He demonstrated the simulator on a recent day at Kaplan. In one scenario, Matelski arrived at a convenience store after a call from the store clerk reporting three male juveniles harassing a female juvenile. On the screen, the four young people walk toward Matelski. The girl threatens him with a gun. He orders her to drop the gun, but instead she points the gun straight at him. He shoots her in the chest, and she falls to the ground. Using his gun was justified in that scenario, he says.
Shooting the girl is just one of the scenario’s possible outcomes. Matelski selects outcomes based on each student’s responses.
Using a gun should be an officer’s last resort, Matelski says. To that end, he is working to get students a “Batman belt” of weapons to use in the firearm simulator, including pseudo mace and tasers.
The newness of Kaplan’s criminal justice program means that the firearm simulator has not yet been incorporated into curriculum. Students are still in the book-learning stage. But students often use the simulator for extra training. Other organizations also use the simulator, including local police forces. A Kent Calvary Unit that is part of the Army’s National Guard even used the simulator recently before deploying to Iraq.
Kaplan’s first criminal justice program session began in March. The program is the campus’ first associate degree program. Other degree programs are offered in the allied health field.
The program lasts 18 months and has a new class rotation every three weeks. Classes are offered during day or night sessions, from either 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. or 6-10:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday.
About 35 students are enrolled in the program. After earning their degree, these students will be ready to enter a variety of entry-level criminal justice jobs. Possible fields include security, corrections, investigation, crime photography, forensics, probation and parole and law enforcement. (Extra training is likely needed for
As Criminal Justice Department Chair Kurt Ikemeier says, “criminal justice is pretty huge.”
Jobs are available on federal, state, county and city levels. Kaplan has a career-services director who helps students find jobs.
Students even wear uniforms to prepare them for their careers: dark blue Kaplan polos, and no sneakers or blue jeans allowed.
Ikemeier has 23 years of criminal justice experience, including time in corrections and law-enforcement. He owns a private investigation firm.
All four Kaplan criminal justice instructors have extensive field experience.
Matelski worked as a U.S. military police instructor and weapons trainer.
William Kelly worked as a police officer for 24 years in Michigan. Charlene Bates is a former federal investigator and corrections officer. Chris Foster is an investigator with Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services.
Kaplan’s criminal justice students come from across King County, and as far south as Tacoma and as far north as Everett. Ages vary.
Willie Daniels is in his 50s. Daniels, of SeaTac, wants to become a juvenile parole officer. He wants to set a good example for his 15 grandchildren and great-grandchild.
Before coming to Kaplan, Daniels worked for 30 years as a nurse, and for 15 years as a Navy medic.
As a black man, Daniels says a law-enforcement job wasn’t available to him growing up in “prejudiced” North Carolina.
“It’s my childhood dream,” he says.