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IU Northwest criminal justice students learn value of being techno-savvy in their field

U.S. Attorney David Capp offered this and other career tips at recent class visit

IU Northwest file photo
David Capp, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana

Criminal-justice students at Indiana University Northwest learned recently that it’s not necessary to become a lawyer to have a rewarding career with the U.S. District Attorney’s Office. But technology skills are all but mandatory.

“I am old school. I come to court with a big briefcase,” said Gary native David Capp, who is U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, during his presentation to students in the Career Development and Planning class offered by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Our young lawyers, they come to court with (a disk) and plug it into their laptop.”

Not only does technology make it easier to track and document criminal activity, Capp explained, but it also helps to simplify the presentation of complex information to juries. He cited one example of a tax-fraud case in which large quantities of financial data were distilled down to a single PowerPoint slide. That slide helped to explain the prosecution’s case, and Capp’s office won a conviction.   

“The jury expects it. They watch television shows where this stuff is being used,” Capp said. “Juries do not want to see a lot of paper.”

Because of these expectations, and because of the increasingly technical nature of criminal investigations, technology-based jobs at the federal level are booming, Capp explained.

“There are important non-legal jobs in our office, related to IT, security of information, etc.,” he explained.  “If you’re going to become an attorney, you have to understand how to communicate to the jury through electronic communications and other means.”

Although technology can make a person’s career in criminal justice, Capp advised that it could also hurt one’s prospects for employment. He cited Facebook as one obvious example.  

“Please think about what you put on Facebook, because that stuff can harm you on the witness stand and in a job interview,” he said. Capp added that credit checks are an important component of background checks, and that poor credit can also derail job offers.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had to turn down some promising people at times because their credit rating was a disaster,” he said. “Any employer you go to, they are going to be checking it.”

The district attorney advised students to seek out internships, paid or unpaid, with the offices and departments they wish to work for, noting that such experiences can lead to full-time employment.  

Capp delivered these and other criminal-justice career tips to students as part of SPEA’s Career Development and Planning class, which brings professionals from a variety of fields to discuss career opportunities - and professional expectations – with students. Other visitors this semester have included, or will include, corrections officers, loss-prevention specialists from local retailers, K-9 officers, Department of Natural Resource officials, and others.  

“It’s an important class for (students),” said SPEA Director and Associate Professor Barbara Peat, Ph.D., who teaches the course. “We’re taking a proactive approach to helping them improve their marketability, as well as finding the individual field that is the best fit for them.

“They can’t just base it on TV,” Peat added, noting that shows like “CSI” often give a skewed and overly glamorized view of criminal-justice work. “Many times, students come in with misconceptions about what a job is going to be like, and then they’re disappointed.”

Peat emphasized that the Career Development class consists of more than just visits from professionals. There is also an academic element consisting of class exercises and group discussions. 

“There are two components. One part of the class aims to broaden their awareness of career opportunities in criminal justice,” she said. “The other part is an academic component based on the book that I use for the class. It involves a great deal of reflective thinking.

“It is a graded class,” she said.

Peat explained that the Career Development class also focuses on graduate education and offers practical preparation for students who wish to pursue advanced degrees.

“Most of the students say this should be a required class for all majors in our department,” she said.

Capp said that he enjoys talking to students about the work his office does, and he expressed pride in the results the D.A.’s office obtains in behalf of the American people.    

“For every dollar that we spend, we return to the taxpayers about $3,” Capp said. “So I am very proud of that statistic.”


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