Fulton’s Chris Umfress has been fighting crime for 21 years. During his career in law enforcement, he’s worked as a patrolman, undercover narcotics agent and criminal investigator.
These days, his job is a little bit different. There are no crime scenes to investigate, no fingerprinting to be done, no courtrooms to … well, scratch that. Come to think of it, Umfress is still kind of doing all those things.
Umfress teaches Law and Public Safety at Itawamba Career and Technical Center, a new course meant to introduce high school students to the basic ways in which the various public safety agencies — medical, military, fire and criminal justice — operate. The class also acts as a pathway for those who might be interested in a career in any of the fields the course covers.
“When I started law enforcement, I didn’t know half this stuff,” Umfress said. “There just wasn’t this kind of training.”
The class is split into two parts, and students are able to take either or both courses. Each covers different subject matter, albeit all related to either law enforcement or public safety. The first part of the course focuses on the criminal justice system — policing, the courts and departments of correction. It covers the shoes-on-pavement stuff like crime scene investigation and fingerprinting, to the intricacies of the court system.
“The important thing is to show them how all of these work together to form the U.S. criminal justice system,” Umfress said.
The second part of the course is all about firefighters, medical services, military and homeland security. That’s a lot of ground to cover, but Umfress believes touching on so many different areas is a great way to give students a basic understanding of each of these careers.
“This is a great first step, a spring board foundation into these fields,” he said. “[These students] will be way ahead of people who have had no experience in any of this.”
As a bonus, through the program, students become nationally certified in CERT, or Community Emergency Response Team, and can respond to emergencies in an official capacity. The certification proves the students are familiar with basic lifesaving medical techniques, search and rescue and disaster preparedness. All of these skills come in handy during an emergency situation.
“During a disaster, your manpower is always overwhelmed,” Umfress said, adding that regularly training and certifying young people who can lend a hand during an emergency could potentially save lives.
“Even if they don’t want to be a cop, they may leave here and plug in with a volunteer fire department,” Umfress said. “It’s a good program. I’m hoping we can turn out some good law enforcement, firefighters and medical professionals out of this.”
As for himself, the switch from street to classroom has been a good one. It’s definitely different, but that’s not a bad thing.
“It’s a much slower pace,” Umfress admitted. How could it not be? But that doesn’t make it any less rewarding.
“I’ve had a chance to do some good stuff in law enforcement … [but] I feel like I’m doing just as much good here as I was out on the street,” he said. “In here, I feel like I can influence people’s lives and make a real difference.”