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RADFORD -- A crime has been committed on campus, and officers throughout the region are scouring the scene searching for clues.
Don’t panic, the crime scene investigation (CSI) was all staged, part of last weekend’s two-and-a-half day workshop for rural police officers, hosted by the Radford University Forensic Science Institute (FSI), and sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
“The idea of this is to refresh a police officer’s memory of what is the duty of the first officer at the scene of a crime, and then what follows in the investigation,” said Tod Burke, professor of criminal justice, overseeing the mock crime scene with Emil Moldovan, adjunct instructor of criminal justice.
Working in teams of varied criminal investigation specialty areas, the officers methodically combed the scene in timed stages searching for evidence while physically and mentally reconstructing the setting in hopes of uncovering clues to help solve the crime.
“What this exercise is doing is giving [the officers] the experience of ‘what went right, and what went wrong,’” said Burke. “We’ll have a debriefing afterward, and they’ll also fill us in on what could’ve been done even better.”
The workshop was made possible through the efforts of FSI Co-Directors Donna Boyd and Cliff Boyd, who in October of 2009 procured a two-year $484,092 NIJ grant. Using a portion of the funding, the husband-wife team envisioned the workshop as a golden opportunity for officers in rural areas of Virginia and neighboring states to immerse themselves in the procedural nuances and hands-on intricacies involved in a crime scene investigation. In addition, the funding helps pay the attendees’ workshop training and materials fees, and covers expenses for room-and-board and transportation.
“I feel like we’re doing a great public service for those officers who might not ordinarily have the chance,” said Cliff Boyd.
In addition to CSI, the weekend training sessions included dozens of topics, such as medicolegal death investigation, digital forensics, forensic biology and chemistry, forensic anthropology and archaeology, search strategy and recovery, forensic entomology, mass disasters and courtroom testimony.
Regularly teaching in the Forensic Training Academy (FTA) in Richmond, the Boyds see intensive forensic programs routinely attended by officers in more urban and populated regions, but seldom those from rural areas. The workshop further provided a valuable opportunity to bring together three disparate groups, according to Donna Boyd, those found in academia, law enforcement and medical examiners from the forensic sciences.
“A lot of times these people don’t get a chance to talk with one another,” she said. “This gives them that opportunity and resources.”
Serving as the chief of police in the quiet, coal-mining West Virginian town of Quinwood, Charles Ochoa jumped at the chance to attend the workshop.
“We have less than a 500 population,” he said. “I’ve never been able to attend training like this.”
As the only full-time officer in town, with two part-time deputies, Ochoa said limited internal funding made the free program a can’t-miss proposition.
“For me, networking and making connections with some people that I may need some advice from in the future is huge,” he said. “This is just a really good resource and a great opportunity for this type of training.”
The soaring popularity of criminal investigation television programs, such as hits like C.S.I. and N.C.I.S., have certainly heightened interest in the field of forensics, but Burke cautions potential students to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Hollywood’s interpretations.
“They say, ‘Dr. Burke what do I have to major in to be a member of C.S.I.?’” he said with a wry smile. “I say, ‘theatre.’”
May 27, 2010