Teachers Transform into Crime Scene Investigators

A teacher dusted a bottle for prints.
A teacher dusted a bottle for prints.

High school teachers learned how to be crime scene investigators during two summer training programs offered by the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility at Sam Houston State University.

Participants examine a body in the lab.
Participants examine a body in the lab.
At the Pattern Evidence class, Texas high school teachers got hands-on experience in lifting fingerprints, taking impressions from gun barrels, separating bullets, and casting footprints and tire tracks. During the Advanced CSI class, teachers got to take crime scene photos, search and map crime scenes, identify animal and human bones, explore entomology in the field and recover human skeletal remains.

The teachers will return to their classrooms this fall armed with new information, resources and experiments to explore applications in forensic science, criminal justice and other sciences with their students.

Teachers build a fume box to take back to their classroom.
Teachers build a fume box to take back to their classroom.
“It has been awesome,” said Jeanna Stallman, a teacher at Angleton High School. “It has been very hands on. That’s what we want for our students. There was a lot we got to do that we can turn around and do with our students.”

The classes were offered by STAFS, a state-of-the-art research and training facility to advance the understanding of forensic science applications to crime scenes and criminal investigation. It is one of only four willed body facilities in the world for the study of the various scientific applications for human remains. Every summer, STAFS brings in researchers and professionals from the field to provide continuing education classes for teachers and law enforcement professionals.

Teachers cast a boot print.

Teachers cast a boot print.
The Pattern Evidence class was taught by Celestina Rossi and Leslie McCauley, two crime scene investigators with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. They provided teachers with the background, resources and techniques they use daily in processing fingerprints, ballistics and footwear and tire impression at crime scenes in their county.

Teachers learned how to classify, identify, analyze and compare fingerprints using several different methods, depending on the surface on which it is found. They extracted fingerprints using fuming tanks, gel glue, chemicals and dyes and were provided resources on quick and easy ways to replicate the experiments in the classroom. Throughout the week, they lifted prints from common everyday items, such as bottles, cans, plastic bags, lighters, golf balls, paper plates and cracker packages.

Ultraviolet light is used to detect fingerprints.
Ultraviolet light is used to detect fingerprints.
The crime scene investigators also reviewed ways to capture ballistic evidence, whether from the barrel of a gun or inside a weapon’s cartridge. They also learned the proper techniques to capture footprints or tire prints at a crime scene and how they may provide valuable clues to identify a suspect. Finally, the teachers were given the opportunity to put their new-found knowledge to use at crime scenes, finding ways to identify and capture evidence to bring back to the lab for analysis.

A group tests their photography skills.
A group tests their photography skills.
Advanced Crime Scene Investigation was taught by Dr. Joan Bytheway, Director of STAFS; Dr. Sibyl Bucheli, an Entomology Professor at SHSU, and Det. Billy Ballard, another crime scene investigator from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, who specializes in photography and digital forensics. Ballard gave a presentation on crime scene photography and the best ways to capture visual evidence on a digital camera.

Dr. Bytheway provided background materials and hands-on exercises on the human skeleton, comparing contemporary and non-contemporary populations as well as animal and human bones. She also showed how bones can be used to determine age, sex, height, size and ethnic origins. Finally, Dr. Bytheway also provided insight on how to recover evidence and human remains at a crime scene, using line searches, grid systems and metal detectors.

A teacher checks out insects at STAFS.
A teacher checks out insects at STAFS.
Dr. Bucheli provided information on common insects found at crime scenes and how to use their life cycles to provide key evidence at crime scenes.
Teachers got to practice these skills at simulated crime scenes a STAFS, which included skeletal remains, weapons and other evidence. Like real life crime scene investigators, they meticulously documented and photographed the scene and used the skeleton to determine the sex, age and height of the “victim.”

Teachers examine the top of a skull.
Teachers examine the top of a skull.
“This was a very good opportunity to network with other teachers who have been teaching this for a while as well as getting ideas from faculty here at the university,” said Anand Samodker of the Vista Lago School District. “There was a lot of sharing and give and take of ideas and worksheets and projects you could do with real world forensics and with other easily accessible items. It was very helpful.”

Despite being a retired forensic expert with the Del Rio Police Department, Don Weaver still learned a lot of new things. He is now a criminal justice teacher at Plano East Senior High School .

“Yes, I collected bones, but I always sent them off,” said Weaver. “Now I can actually talk intelligently to students about the bones and what we are looking for and how to properly recover them.”




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