Students benefit from the experts at crime scene investigation course

Brian Hill
Mike Campbell (left), a Fort Leonard Wood fire inspector, demonstrates what to look for when arson is suspected during the Advanced Crime Scene Investigative Techniques course at the Forensic Science Training Facility Aug. 25.

Several Army Criminal Investigation Division agents gathered behind Fort Leonard Wood’s Forensic Science Training Facility Aug. 25 where Mike Campbell, a fire inspector, rolled out some carpet and lit it on fire.

Campbell demonstrated for the agents what various common household goods look like after they’ve been purposely set ablaze, and explained what to look for when arson is suspected. He also offered some interview techniques investigators can use with firefighters.

“It’s just another tool for their toolbox,” he said.

Campbell then asked Tiffany Fox, an investigator with the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s Office, to show the agents the trailer she brought with her – a mock-up of a common domestic living room with one big problem to investigate.

“I brought the trailer to show them what it looks like when there’s a fire that’s set intentionally,” she said. “They’re tasked with going in there and seeing if they can locate the cause and origin of a fire. They have to eliminate any accidental causes – you start with electrical, weather, faulty appliances, anything like that. Once you eliminate all of that, you can move into the criminal side of it.”

The lesson on arson was just one aspect of the two-week Advanced Crime Scene Investigative Techniques course the CID agents were attending.

According to Special Agent Matt Geniuk, U.S. Army Military Police School Crime Scene Investigation Branch chief, the course is designed to teach CID and other military investigators advanced methods of identifying, preserving and collecting evidence.

He said various experts help teach specialized subjects including arson, behavioral analysis and post-blast investigations.

“Experts … contribute experience, equipment and sometimes facilities to enhance the quality of instruction,” he said.

In addition to Fox, Dr. Catherine Johnson from the Missouri University of Science and Technology Mining School in Rolla, Missouri, assists with the post-blast investigation portion.

“She demonstrates various explosives, teaches about blast effects and sets up an explosion crime scene for students to process,” Geniuk said.

Other contributors include the Rolla Fire Department, who provide the use of their training facility, and Dr. Michelle Miller, a CID forensic psychologist, who teaches behavior aspects at crime scenes.

Special Agent Andre Pepler, one of the instructors of the course, said introducing students to the various experts they’ll encounter at a crime scene is a big help.

“With arson, we would work with a certified arson investigator,” he said. “We work hand-in-hand with them – they are the experts in arson – it’s a specialty on its own. We need to know what to ask for, what to look for.”

Fox said she’s happy to be invited to Fort Leonard Wood to assist with this training.

“It’s very valuable,” she said. “Any time you can gain any resources to help you do your job or help someone else do their job, it makes everything go a lot smoother.”