Pitt-Bradford has opened a new Crime Scene Investigation House, which enables students to get hands-on experience working “crime scenes” while using advanced investigative tools that some law enforcement agencies don’t have.
The CSI House, which was renovated at a cost in excess of $100,000, is on the cutting edge of criminal justice training. The single family home on the edge of campus is set up as a real home, complete with books on the night stand and toys in the nursery. But unlike most homes, panoramic cameras are found in every room, allowing Dr. Tony Gaskew, coordinator of criminal forensic studies and assistant professor of criminal justice, to see how his students are processing a crime and immediately give them feedback over a two-way sound system.
“Our criminal justice students and those who have visited the CSI House so far have been amazed by the facility,” said Dr. Bernie Meyer, associate professor and director of the criminal justice program. “In the CSI House, our students will work with modern and sophisticated investigative equipment that some professional law enforcement agencies don’t even have.
“Last semester, I visited the crime scene houses at both West Virginia University and Penn State University and inspected their facilities. I discovered that our CSI House exceeds current standards and best practices.”
The value of the house is more than the sophisticated sound and video equipment; it’s also working through a crime scene in three dimensions in a way that seems much more real than when sitting in a classroom trying to envision the scene.
In the CSI House, students secure, process and manage a variety of criminal investigations, including burglaries, robberies, sexual assaults, drug trafficking and homicides.
On Monday, Gaskew gave two teams of students a new scenario, the third they’ve worked on so far this semester. A family member has called police saying they entered the house, smelled a horrible smell and didn’t want to go any farther. As one student starts to ask a question, Gaskew cuts her off. “That’s it,” he says. There’s no more information.
The scene inside the house is as realistic as it can be without using real bodies. Students snap on purple latex gloves and plastic booties to walk through the pristine crime scene, which took Gaskew three days to set up. It may be a mannequin laid out on the floor of the bedroom, but it’s covered in real blood and has bullet holes torn through its clothes. Students can perform on-site tests to determine whether they have found human blood or drugs, and must keep meticulous paper work.
The two teams decide how they will divvy up the crime scene. One of the skills that students will develop, Gaskew says, is the critical communication between investigators.
In addition to the on-scene work, students must use their knowledge of the legal system to apply for search warrants and subpoenas, meeting the stringent requirements of Gaskew, who acts as the judge – most of the time.
When the students in the forensic investigations class submitted their paperwork to request a search warrant in a drug-trafficking case, the request was made to a real judge Gaskew had asked to review evidence. Without probable cause, Gaskew explains, a warrant isn’t issued, and the investigation is shut down. He doesn’t hesitate to say he will fail them.
And the students know it. The case agent leading the investigation of the case directs his investigators with military authority. The team leader quizzes each member of her team about the exact steps they took to secure evidence. A campus observer is politely asked to back off until investigators complete the initial walkthrough of the crime scene. And an hour after the one-hour class ends, half the class is still there, going over the crime scene and gathering precious biological evidence from the outside of the house before a rain storm washes it away.