Teacher and CSI Expert: Jefferson K. Itami
by Virginia Rainey
Jefferson K. Itami seems like a nice, unassuming guy. In fact, he is a nice guy - if you're a victim of a crime or a law-abiding citizen. Criminals, however, don't stand a chance when this ace Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) is on their trail. Or when his students are on the trail.
Itami, who earned his Master of Education at Westminster in 2000 (he enrolled at age 57), spends much of his "semi-retired" time traveling the world and teaching for the International Association for Identification -- educating other crime scene investigaors about the tools and nuances of their increasingly sophisticated trade. He also works on several cases a year for the Salt Lake City Legal Defender’s Office, often overseeing crime scene protocol and procedures. “I’m big on procedures,” he emphasizes. “That’s what it’s all about.” That, and a lot of other things, as it turns out. Itami—a fingerprint and crime-scene expert—has had so many careers and adventures and is active in so many hobbies and levels of community involvement, it’s hard to say what he’s all about—but it’s all good.
How serious is he? Very. “‘You die, we fly, someone will fry!’—that’s the CSI motto in the sheriff’s office,” Itami says—and he relishes it. “There is nothing like the hunt to get your adrenaline pumping. If you’re after somebody who has committed a crime, you know they are going to suffer and, you hope, go to jail,” he says. At the same time, he’ll tell you that he’s a “cowboy action shooter,” just for fun. “It’s a huge international sport.We dress up in 1870s costumes and pack six-shooter replicas (unloaded), compete on teams, form posses, and generally have a jolly time.”
Itami serves as the current civil rights chair and past president for the Salt Lake Chapter of Japanese- American Citizens League. He is also the current secretary and a longtime member of the Italian-American Civic League. “I have an ‘in,’ since my wife is Italian,” he notes. He’s been a Knight of Columbus since 1976 and says that ever since he learned about the Southern Poverty Law Center while attending Westminster College, he’s been a financial contributor.
With a background that includes work as a cryptographer in the U.S. Army, European Command (1963–66), and a career as a professional photographer and a semi-technical illustrator for Ajax Presses in Salt Lake, Itami’s life could have gone in any number of directions. As it turns out, he was attracted to security work in the early 1970s and landed a job as an assistant security director at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. For seven years he kept things under control in that popular historic shopping mall. Through that position, Itami made contacts who told him that, with his background, he would be more than welcome in the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office. Indeed, he was. He passed entry tests with flying colors and was a perfect fit for the busy department. “With my photography skills, they were very happy to have me on the crime scene and in the lab,” he says. Itami, a natural and energetic student, earned his Forensic Science Certificate and did additional work in Advanced Latent Fingerprint School, Forensic Anthropology, and Facial Reconstruction. And it wasn’t long before the department asked him to share his knowledge in a classroom setting at its Corrections Academy. “The first time I walked into a classroom in 1997, I realized I was pretty disorganized. I had no understanding of how my students learned. I didn’t know the best way to present materials to them. So while I knew I could be a very exciting and interesting person, I needed to learn how to organize myself and my materials and training objectives so that they made sense to the students and maximized their learning,” he remembers. “I knew I needed to learn how to become a better teacher. So I found out that the County offered financial assistance for officers who wanted to go on to graduate training. They reimbursed partial tuition when I completed my master’s degree. Of course, they had to look at my report card every semester!”
Why Westminster? “I knew that Westminster was an excellent institution with a great reputation. And it’s close to my home, so I could attend classes in the evening. I am so glad I made the move to get my teaching degree. The immediate effect was that in 1997–98 I wrote all my lesson plans and was able to really reorganize my material. All the research and studying I did at Westminster allowed me to understand how my students best learned, and I made my classes much more directed and effective. As far as popularity with students at the Corrections Academy, I always got a high rating. But before I enrolled at Westminster, I did get some low ratings for ‘wandering’ when I explained things. After Westminster, the low marks for wandering went away.” Finally, what does Jefferson Itami think about the popular television series CSI? “Well,” he laughs, “I have to watch it because it’s so amusing. Very entertaining. But of course, it’s unrealistic in a lot of ways. It’s TV. For instance, in the show they use a really exciting variety of techniques and technology, but their stuff is so new, it’s not even ‘out there’ yet. It’s real, but it’s not really available in an affordable way, and some of it is not certified by the courts. Everything we do is certified by the courts and acceptable presentation of evidence.” He points to his trusty fingerprint kit, complete with a Sherlock Holmes-type magnifying lens and notes that, “The CSI television guys run around with the most expensive kit available. Theirs costs about $1,500; mine runs about $200. But it’s still fun to watch them. Of course, I notice every detail!”