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Forensics classes give students taste of the real deal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's the "CSI" effect: an unreasonable expectation that crime scene evidence can be instantly analyzed with magical results.

It works that way on TV all the time, but in the field the case can be a lot different, Chris Bily said.

Bily is an instructional coordinator with West Virginia University's Next Generation Forensic Science Initiative, which is offering free workshops to middle and high school students. The day-long workshops in WVU's Crime Scene Complex put students through a more realistic set of paces when it comes to Fingerprints (Feb. 22); Footwear impression evidence (March 22); Firearm identification (April 26) and Bloodstain pattern analysis (May 24).

Consider fingerprints. On TV the fingerprint "is put into a computer and it's identified instantly -- the name and address of a suspect comes up," Bily said.

"In reality, fingerprints recovered from a crime scene can take a very long time to develop. They are often very poor quality. It can take a long time to compare them. When they portray fingerprints on television they are these nearly full fingerprints that are of pristine quality -- those are the exception to the rule in actual crime scene work."

Akin to fingerprints, footwear impression evidence is very valuable physical evidence at a crime science, Bily said. "It is often overlooked and undervalued."

"If I had an impression from a crime scene it might give me, for instance, a Chuck Taylor All-Star. But it's different from a fingerprint database because it will provide a list of suspects -- this just provides the type of shoe."

In firearms identification, the pattern of ammunition is key, he said. "Each gun as a result of the manufacturing process has its own signature or its own fingerprint that is transferred to the bullet as it travels down the barrel.

"If the marks on an evidence bullet can be matched to the marks on [a] test first bullet the forensic scientist can say the evidence bullet and test first bullet came from the same gun."

Youth who attend the workshops will also learn to interpret the blood stain patterns at a crime scene "in order to determine the sequence of events that led to the creation of the bloodstain," Bily said.

"They'll be dropping blood onto different surfaces to see how the surface texture affects the shape of the stain."

The classes are one-hour-and-half long and maximum enrollment is 25 students, filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Classes for middle school students will begin at 10 a.m. while classes for high school students will start at 1 p.m.

Classes will take place at the Vehicle Processing Center in WVU's Crime Scene Complex at 383 Oakland St., Morgantown.

"It's really a neat experience for the kids to take classes in that complex because that normally reserved for the forensic science majors, So this is an opportunity for kids that don't go to school her to get some experience in that complex," Bily said.

"The response has been terrific. Our approach to teaching is very hands on -- we minimize lecture and try to give them as much laboratory time possible. Kids wants to learn how to do this stuff -- so we go a long way to make that happen."

The workshops evolved from the University's participation in the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. At the nine-day summer event in Mount Hope, the University showcased its forensic sciences program with 11 different activities representing seven different forensic disciplines. Those exercises involved alternate light source applications, biometrics, bloodstain pattern analysis, digital evidence, fingerprints, footwear, firearms and tool marks. Scouts who completed four or more exercises received a patch from WVU and more than 6,000 patches were given out in four days.

To register for the workshops or for more information, contact Bily at Chris.Bily@mail.wvu.edu.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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