Mock crime scene provides challenges, opportunities for student investigators

Tyler Golden uses a tape measure as Lauren Robinson prepares to measure the distance from part of the victim as they collect information at a mock crime scene in Hurlburt Student Center.

Young criminal justice students found themselves in the midst of a gruesome scene during a practical training exercise at Radford University.

When the students enrolled in Criminal Investigation Theory arrived in the Hurlburt Student Center for the March 31 exercise, they were confronted with a murdered mannequin, a “bloody” weapon, strewn papers and a giant stuffed rabbit.

Although the scene was a fake, it took some students a moment to wrap their heads around it. After that, however, it was time to get down to business. Working in teams, they took turns photographing, measuring, cataloguing and collecting every piece of evidence in the room.

“The importance of this is that students get to integrate the theory with the practice,” said Tod Burke, class instructor and professor of criminal justice. “What they learned in the classroom they’re now going to apply.”

Burke puts his students through several practicums in a given semester, but the mock crime scene remains a perennial favorite for students and professional first responders who volunteer their time to offer assistance and advice.


Alyssa Cooper and Kristen Morris work to collect evidence from a mock crime scene.

With several teams of students going in and out of the room and handling the evidence, it is important to have a clear chain of command. Sophomore criminal justice major Patrice Malone volunteered to head up that chain and act as the “chief” for the investigation.

“The crime scene TV shows don’t really show you that much, but this gives us the hands-on feel of what we need to do and at what time in the investigation,” Malone said.

Although mistakes were made – better to do it in class than on an actual crime scene, according to Burke and participating professionals – the students were able to maintain a decent hold on the investigation process.

It began with removing nosy reporters (played by real members of the local media), establishing control over the room, and systematically documenting every piece of evidence.

Kyle Alger, a rising senior in criminal justice, played the role of a sergeant in charge of the initial identification of evidence in the room. Although his team made a small mistake by accidentally skipping the placement of a numbered cone, they were able to correct it by communicating with following teams, ensuring that everybody knew what was what.

For Alger, of Herndon, Burke’s practicums are the perfect example of why Radford is the right choice for criminal justice students.

“This is what I came here for, when I saw they did things like this,” he said. He did not have to wait long for that experience. “I transferred here just last semester for this and this is the first class where I am doing one.”

While the students managed the crime scene, one of the biggest aspects of exercise remained open for interpretation. Who committed the crime, a jilted lover or a vicious Easter Bunny?

The burgeoning crime scene investigators decided to leave that question for the detectives.

Apr 1, 2016
Dan Waidelich