Few things would bring anyone out into a November snowstorm at 1 a.m., but on Nov. 16, more than a dozen Hamline forensic science students were called out to investigate a staged crime scene on campus.
The After Hours Crime Scene (AHCS) is a critical part of Dr. Jamie Spaulding’s Crime Scene and Death Investigation course, as it channels the skills and practices student’s have learned all semester into one realistic scenario.
“There are very, very few places that have students in the middle of the night out there actually doing the real world work, which is the only way I think I can appropriately train students to do this work,” Spaulding said.
The AHCS, and Hamline’s breadth of forensics science courses, are a bit of a rarity in the Midwest, as Hamline is the only Minnesota university with a forensic science major – and one of the few forensics programs in the Upper Midwest.
The coursework has attracted students to Hamline, such as Kate Kelley, an anthropology major seeking a forensic science certificate. Like most of her classmates, Kelley was nervous about the AHCS, which Spaulding told students would occur randomly and without warning – just like real-life crime calls.
“Waiting for the call was brutal, trying to fall asleep but not knowing how long you can sleep before you need to be up and on your A-game was nerve-wracking,” said Kelley. “However, once that call came in, it was clockwork.”
When students arrived on-scene, snow and temperatures were dropping. They found a mannequin body in front of Old Main (complete with gunshot wounds), spent bullet casings, a handgun in the bushes and two teacher’s assistants serving as “unreliable” witnesses. St. Paul Police and Hamline Public Safety personnel were also on-scene to lend additional realism.
For Sara Thisius, who has already accepted a position as a law enforcement officer for a local police department, the AHCS gives her insight and confidence as she starts her career.
“This experience has allowed me to understand the dynamics of a crime scene and how each person is responsible for ensuring forensic science’s integrity,” Thisius said.
Students who plan to pursue a lab career get a better understanding of how the evidence they will one-day examine is handled and collected.
Kelley, who is studying to become a forensic anthropologist, realized the benefits to her future career immediately.
“It was still very beneficial to learn the documentation and processing procedures that will most likely also extend into my, and many others, discipline,” Kelley said. “Even if you plan to be in the lab and not in the field it is good to be able to understand what the field techs have gone through in order to understand their mindsets when submitting pieces of evidence for analysis.”
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