By Sam Mahtani

In the criminal justice system….most of our understanding is based on what we see on television or in movies. This spring, Providence students were given the opportunity to move beyond the screen and learn what actually happens in the Los Angeles court system.

On April 9th, 21 students had the opportunity to meet with and hear from Deputy District Attorney Dayan Mathai and Detective Sean O’Rourke at the LA County Hall of Justice, the central location of the Justice Department in Los Angeles. Mathai and O’Rourke walked the students through the Operation Moneybags Case which centered on the East Coast Crips committing burglaries east of the 110 highway, a natural divider in LA between the west and east side. Students gained insight into the specifics of how the crimes were committed, but also an in depth understanding of how the crimes were targeted, and how the law system processes the crimes based on various factors.

Paige Baker ’20, from La Crescenta, California, “was able to gain insight into the role of a detective. I feel that there is a stigma around detectives that they do not do a lot of intellectual work, but are the brawn and not the brains. By participating in this Avodah, it became clear that detectives have to do a lot of hard work behind the scenes.”

Detective O’Rourke, who was a main detective on the case, spoke to students about the process of what it takes to get a warrant, the administrative tasks and timeline to get a wiretap, and how the gangs planned and carried out these burglaries. The result of his years of work has culminated with a large number of indictments and multiple people facing prosecution.

Aren Hoogerdijk ’21, from Perth, Australia, was able to draw some real-life application from the experience. “Detective O’Rourke reminded me of Special Agent Booth from the TV show Bones. From his time in the Marines to the black suit and funky guitar socks, it was like seeing my childhood hero. As someone who is interested in writing fictional stories, this Avodah experience puts a new and realistic perspective on how I might write about a detective or a criminal.”

From an academic perspective, Max Belz, director of experiential learning, added that this experience helped “students gain an understanding of what these careers actually look like. Most surprising is the amount of writing investigators are expected to do. Detective O’Rourke shared that his report in total was 700 pages. It continues to confirm value of a liberal arts education to teach students to write well and synthesize huge amounts of information into a cohesive narrative.”