In January Arcadia University introduced its new Crime Scene House. Dr. Karen Scott, director and associate professor of forensic science at Arcadia, gave us more details on this real-life teaching tool for the Masters of Science in Forensic Science (MSFS) program.
What exactly is a crime scene house and what special features does it have?
A crime scene house is a property that is set up as a crime scene for training or teaching purposes. This can be anything from a single room to a whole house and garden. It is not essential to have any special features; however we have a variety of props that we use for our scenes including a mannequin so that we can stage murder scenes.
What is the house’s history and how did Arcadia acquire it?
The house is a standard property that Arcadia owns. Arcadia’s Emergency Services uses it because it ensures a three-minute response time to any location on campus. When Alumni Relations re-appropriated the basement space in another location that the MSFS program previously used, we were able to acquire five rooms in the crime scene house. Working closely with Arcadia’s facilities team over the summer, we set up a studio style apartment on the first floor and two classrooms on the second floor.
Will anyone other than the MSFS program use the crime scene house?
The main use of the house is for the MSFS program’s Crime Scene Investigation and Reconstruction course. The Criminal Justice program also uses it for their undergraduate Crime Scene class. In addition, we hosted a Bomb Squad training day for Montgomery County Sheriff’s department and will use the house to train Montgomery County officers in crime scene techniques. The Center for Forensic Science Research and Education in Willow Grove, the partner lab for the MSFS program, will also use the house for training courses. Lastly we will host high school classes and perhaps other groups in the community.
What might a mock crime scene look like?
We utilize both inside and outside the house for the crime scenes. Outside there may be some tire marks or footprints that the students would collect to determine what the perpetrator was driving or wearing on his/her feet. The students would look for tool marks on the door which would signal forced entry. Inside typically there will be a body and evidence pointing to a manner of death (gunshot, for example) and perhaps some type of theft. The students will look for fingerprints and other types of trace evidence around the body and in other rooms that may have been breached during the crime.
What do students learn in a mock crime scene experience that they don’t learn elsewhere? How important is it for students to have this real-world experience?
They learn how to process a crime scene in a methodical manner. They learn the importance of correct evidence collection and scene preservation. Doing this practically (and learning from mistakes) is a crucial part of their learning. You only get one attempt to correctly process any scene so the hands-on experience at this level helps them gain appreciation for what working a real scene will be like.