Immersive CSI Training
Written by William Coté   

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The body of a 27-year-old man was discovered in a creek in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The investigator in charge of the case had received information that the suspect’s Chevy Tahoe was likely used to transport the body. No latent fingerprints from the victim had been found in the vehicle, but if traces of blood could be located, that would provide key evidence in the murder case.

So Officer Terrence “Joe” Campbell, the homicide crime scene supervisor for the Tulsa Police Department, removed a piece of trim from the interior of the Chevy and sprayed it with Bluestar Forensic latent bloodstain reagent. Within seconds, a series of streaks brightly fluoresced in the dark. The blood was later determined to be that of the victim.

Bluestar is a reagent that provides safer, more effective presumptive tests for bloodstains than the standard luminal formulation that has long been in use at crime scenes.

“It fluoresces brighter and longer and the room doesn’t need to be as dark—so it’s easier to photograph,” said Campbell. “I had never heard of Bluestar until I attended crime scene training at NFSTC.”

In fact, the hands-on programs at the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) have introduced Campbell to numerous new tools and techniques he can apply immediately in his casework. Funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), these programs have provided Campbell with up-to-date theoretical knowledge and immersive real-world training. While the courses were free to his agency, they have quickly paid dividends in real-life homicide investigations.

When Campbell became supervisor of the Tulsa Police Department’s Homicide Crime Scene Unit three years ago, he knew he would want to enhance his crime scene investigation skills. He had served as a police officer for a decade, but being responsible for overseeing the work of 17 other investigators would be a daunting challenge for even the most seasoned officer.

“Many crime scene investigators acquire most of their skills on the job,” said Campbell. “However, in this day of the CSI effect, juries won’t just accept that you’re an expert—they will ask you about the kind of training you’ve had.”

Campbell has attended three hands-on training programs at NFSTC: a Biological Screening Workshop, an Essentials of Crime Scene Investigation program, and the latest, the Intermediate Crime Scene Investigation program for more advanced investigators.

“The indoor crime scene scenarios available at NFSTC make the training extremely realistic,” said Campbell. “It’s one thing to work with evidence samples in controlled conditions; it’s another thing to collect this evidence from a house or an actual vehicle. This training is as close to the real thing as you can get.”

Instructors appreciate the facilities as well.

“If you train at an agency, you will typically have to instruct the entire class within one room,” said instructor Scott Campbell (no relation to Joe). “But at NFSTC, you have numerous spaces that can be set up so trainees can quickly and efficiently move from one space to another, practicing various techniques.”

Another new crime scene tool that Joe Campbell was introduced to during these sessions was a tool for lifting latent prints, the AccuTrans system. The AccuTrans device may look like a simple household caulking gun, but it is actually a powerful tool that allows investigators to precisely apply casting silicone to capture fingerprints, blood prints, tooth marks and other evidence from a wide variety of surfaces.

“It’s a fantastic device,” he said. “At a scene you may only get one shot to collect the evidence. You want to make sure you capture it properly.”

He was so impressed with AccuTrans that, when he got home, he conducted a demonstration for all of the crime scene investigators in his department. It didn’t take long for the tool to be used during a serious investigation.

“For a recent homicide case—a murder in a house—our graveyard-shift crime scene unit developed latent prints off a sheetrock wall using conventional powder techniques,” said Joe Campbell. “Then they lifted the print using the AccuTrans system. It didn’t turn out to be the suspect’s print, but it was a comparison-quality print that was still valuable to the investigation.”

Based on this success with AccuTrans, he ordered a kit for each person in the crime scene unit.

And Joe Campbell is not done sharing his newly acquired knowledge. His agency is in the process of creating training modeled after the Essentials of Crime Scene program he participated in. Joe Campbell will be seeking to certify the training through Oklahoma’s Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training so that it can be used for continuing education credits for investigators in his unit.

“Once you see first-hand how effective some of these tools and techniques are, you naturally want to share this information with other investigators,” he said.

About the Author

William Coté is Communications Services Coordinator with the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC).

 
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