By Mike LaBella Staff Writer
The Haverhill Gazette
---- — During his 25 years with the Massachusetts State Police, Paul Zipper has investigated fires and explosions as well as murders and cases of child abuse.
As a highly regarded arson detective, he has also testified as an expert witness in more than a dozen cases and as a fact witness in hundreds of other cases. That’s his day job. At night, Lt. Paul Zipper transforms into Professor Zipper.
An adjunct faculty member at Northern Essex Community College, Paul Zipper, Ph.D developed and teaches Juvenile Criminal Justice and Criminal Law, two online courses in which he draws from his real life experiences. Most of his interaction with students is by computer, although he also teaches an internship class in which he meets with students working as interns in courts, police departments, mental health facilities and other organizations.
”It’s good to be able to draw on real experiences while having a good academic background,” Zipper said. “I’ve done the work, the job, but I also understand how to navigate the educational process. Being able to take principals in the text and bring those to life with real world anecdotes allows me to explain concepts form a real world perspective.”
He teaches young people who want to work in local law enforcement, become lawyers or counselors working with juveniles or in probation, as well as older students working in the field of law enforcement who want a college degree.
“My younger students, with less real life experience, tend to have an unrealistic views of how the system works,” Zipper said. “Some of them want to be a CSI, but have no idea what it is.
”It’s not about people in white lab coats running around with guns and pressing a button at the lab to solve a case,’’ he said. “I talk about the day-to-day drudgery of knocking on doors, interviewing witnesses and spending hours and hours writing reports and search warrants. The sheer amount of time it takes to do a professional job is never talked about in television shows. They can’t show all the dead-ends you might run into. And the actors they use don’t remotely reflect what it’s really like to interview a homeless drug addict ex-convict.
”Oftentimes on television they act tough, scream at people and bang their heads on a wall,” Zipper said. “I eliminate Hollywood misconceptions such as wrapping a case up in 50 minutes with commercials. It just doesn’t happen that way in the real world.”
Zipper teaches the online courses from his Haverhill home during the evenings and on weekends, when he isn’t at his day job.
”I don’t have any hobbies,” he said. “I guess I’m wired to do what I do.
”When I was growing up I would run into people who would mentor me, people who for whatever reason would take a liking to me,” he said. “So now that I’m on this end of my career, I try to do the same thing for people on the way up. I want to help them succeed based on what I’ve learned.”
He said his wife, an assistant chief of probation in Lawrence District Court, looks forward to each new crop of students in his internship class.
”She always asks, ‘When am I going to get some interns?’” he said.
Zipper not only has an affinity for teaching others what he’s learned on the job — he has the credentials, including a doctoral degree in sociology from Northeastern University, a master’s in administration of justice from American University, and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, media systems and management from Westfield State College.
Currently the station commander at the State Police Barracks in Newbury, Zipper was previously assigned to the State Police Fire and Explosion Investigation team for 20 years. His work with the Lawrence Arson Task Force, which began in 1992, brought him national and international attention. Zipper teaches other members of law enforcement the methods of interrogating adults and juveniles as well as how to testify in cases, and is a contributing author of the text “Firesetting in Children and Youth: A Multidisciplinary Practical Handbook.’’ He has also co-authored an article titled “Children and Arson: The Importance of Early Intervention in Juvenile Firesetting” for The FBI in its Law Enforcement Bulletin which was published in April of 2005.
Zipper, along with two other troopers, was instrumental in getting new legislation criminalizing the possession of materials used in the manufacturing of explosives. The effort also led to the overhaul of state law governing bombs and explosives. For his efforts, the State Police awarded Zipper the Medal of Merit.
Both Zipper and John Murray of Kittery, Maine, are recent recipients of the Massachusetts College’s Online Course of Distinction Award given to state faculty who have developed and teach innovative online and blended courses. The awards were presented during Mass College Online’s eighth annual conference on elearning, held in June at Bridgewater State College.
Murray, program and clinical coordinator of sleep technology at Northern Essex Community College, was honored for an Electrocardiography II course he developed.
Zipper credits NECC’s Center for Instructional Technology with making his online course a success, saying it developed an excellent ITEACH program that introduced him to theories on student learning styles and the mechanics of online instruction.
”After taking the ITEACH program, I was able to take my vision of a criminal law course, apply it to what I learned in ITEACH and then build, develop and manage my course with the knowledge,” Zipper said.