Beyond books & lecture

Students and law enforcement get hands-on experience in the Marshall University crime scene house


   The main floor is also wired with a CCTV system — including 360-degree motorized cameras — that is used to monitor mock scenes, record them digitally for review and critique of investigative methods later with professors.

Hands-on lessons

   Crime scene investigation work can be delicate, and there are several slips an incoming student can make. When dealing with evidence, proper care and consciousness need to be taken to preserve the scene. The crime scene house allows students to take what they've covered in texts and classroom instruction and apply it to a mock investigation. Fenger says the hands-on process can help students learn from mistakes and makes for a more savvy examiner.

   Fenger adds students are first taught to recognize the evidence. For example, in one mock investigation at the crime scene house, he says there was a dusty floor and the perpetrator had stepped and left his shoe impression in the dust.

   "If you're not aware of that possibility, in the case I'm thinking of, the students walked right through the dusty impressions and destroyed the evidence," he explains. "The correction was to step back, take your flashlight at an oblique angle and look for these type of impressions before you enter the crime scene. In other words, don't destroy evidence."

   In another mock crime scene house investigation, students had run through and completed the exercise. On review, Fenger showed them they had missed a USB drive pen that contained all kinds of information relative to drug transactions, which had been inconspicuously resting in a cup on a desk.

   "Even though I had shown them ... in one of my lectures that these types of devices can look like a pendant on a necklace or a small stuffed animal, they were not able to discern that this pen had a thumb drive in it," Fenger says. "When they realized it, it was like a light bulb went on and they were much better at finding digital evidence."

   The house sees not only an assortment of robbery, drug busts, assaults and homicides, but also all sorts of visitors. In addition to the MU crime scene degree students, the house also hosts FBI-sponsored training events, high school students, and is utilized by the Huntington Police Department.

Borrow from your neighbor

   The Forensic Science Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma also offers a unique education and training environment. UCO had been offering an academic program in forensic science for nearly 30 years. In 2006 the university created the Forensic Science Institute, which provided continuing education for forensics-related professionals. The UCO forensic program director, Dwight Adams, says the Forensic Science Institute put on more than 30 training programs for law enforcement and forensic science professionals. The university wanted to broaden the scope of its program and create a center of excellence for forensic science on campus. This past fall, the Institute took over the forensic academic program and opened a brand new facility that is connected to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, housed right next door.

   Adams, formerly director of the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., for 23 years retired from the FBI in 2006 and began working with the University of Central Oklahoma — his alma mater — to create the Forensic Science Institute. He says the university's forensic science center and state bureau augment each other, creating an advantageous partnership. Students in the UCO forensics program benefit from the expertise next door at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation through internships.

   "The students look at those across the street as mentors and something they aspire to do themselves," Adams says. "The relationship has been absolutely wonderful in terms of what OSBI has contributed to this program and what we in turn have been able to provide back to them." OSBI benefits from having a ready-made pool of applicants for job openings — in fact, the current director is a UCO graduate.

   Part of UCO's dedicated crime scene simulation space includes an evidence recovery bay, which was designed and built into the new building exclusively for that purpose. Adams explains the area is used much like a garage in that instructors don't worry about fingerprint powder or blood stain pattern analysis or getting a classroom dirty.

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