Virtual reality: A reality for crime scene training

The nonprofit National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC), in partnership with the University of Tennessee (UT) Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC), is making virtual reality crime scene training available to state and local law enforcement...

Processing evidence at the scene: Instructor avatar-led demonstration of virtual tools, and independent practice using tools, evidence detection, evidence lifting, evidence collection (Independent lessons utilizing all tools are available.)

Training scenarios: Scenarios include an apartment burglary and an assault.

Cory Latham, a Kansas Bureau of Investigation senior special agent and crime scene response team leader, was a subject matter expert who also evaluated the training as a student.

“I was impressed with the attention to detail that went into making sure things were done technically correct, [in addition to]the interaction that you get with the avatar,” Latham says.

He notes, “A uniformed officer briefs you on what’s going on as a first responding officer would…I thought that was very cool.” Overall, Latham describes the training as fun and rewarding.

Miller estimates the training takes 8 to 20 hours: “It’s really hard to judge how long it will take since there are multiple practical crime scene scenarios which require the identification, collection and preservation of crime scene evidence.”

Latham adds, “Students can work on the training at their own place of employment or anywhere, put it down and come back to it later. It’s tough to do that with a mock crime scene.”

Law enforcement personnel who enjoy playing video games may be more at home and quicker in the virtual environment than those who do not. A tutorial helps students navigate the training. Throughout the modules, multiple choice quizzes are given, and at the end of the course, a practical evaluation is done. If students want to improve their outcome, they may retake the practical evaluation.

“The feedback that you get is valuable,” Latham says. Crime scene processing, for example, must be done correctly. “If you try to cast a dust impression using the wrong methods, you will find that out,” he says.

Miller says in addition to improving a student’s ability to document a crime scene and identify evidence, I-VR improves a student’s ability to make decisions at a crime scene. What do they do first? What samples do they send to the crime laboratory? These are among questions students must ask themselves.

To get started, students may register for the course online at After a student’s law enforcement credentials are confirmed, registration is confirmed by email. After all lessons and evaluations are completed, a certificate of completion can be printed. It is a 20-hour, TNN-certified course.

Online crime scene training, down the line

While Latham anticipates law enforcement will see more and more crime scene training online because it is a less expensive option for departments and personnel, he says, “Online training does not take the place of hands-on experience and mentorship. You can’t take this course and think you’re going to be ready to go out into a working crime scene and know it all, but it’s a good tool to learn.”

Cochran agrees the prohibitive cost of traveling for training will move online training forward as a viable option. He also notes that I-VRis a step above what law enforcement has had in the past. “This is much more interactive, with a nice mix of training materials, including videos,” he says.

For more advanced, hands-on training, Cochran says online training could be used initially to make sure everyone understands the basics and is on the same level before students get together with an instructor for more training.

“We’ll then be better able to use some of our hands-on training,” he says, noting not everything can be done via the Internet.

Susan Robertson, UT Institute for Public Service information specialist, concludes, “The benefit is you don’t have to travel to Tennessee and take 10 days away from your job and your family.”

The joint efforts of UT and NFSTC working on Investigator-Virtual Reality earned a Best Collaboration Award at the 2012 BizTech Innovation Summit Awards & Expo.

UT also offers “Supervising Crime Scene Investigators,” a 5-hour POST-certified course online, and plans to add a drug court course.


Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer and editor specializing in law enforcement topics. She can be reached at

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