Area law enforcement officials take part in crime scene class

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Friday, March 30, 2012
— It's not every day that the same person hides the bodies, hangs the crime scene tape and speeds away down a gravel road.

Just another day in the life of a crime scene-processing instructor.

Police officers, detectives and deputies from around southern Wisconsin on Thursday combed the woods behind Blackhawk Technical College as well as some of the school's classrooms. They were looking for evidence left by trainer Nick Stahlke and other employees of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Law Enforcement Services Division Crime Lab—commonly referred to as the State Crime Lab.

The hands-on class was part of one of the five evidence technician schools the crime lab will offer around the state this year. In past years, the lab has offered two such training sessions annually.

New crime lab Director Kevin Jones said the increased number of training schools is part of an effort to use crime lab employees and resources more effectively.

With better training, local officers are better able to collect evidence so the crime lab can use it, Jones said. That streamlines data analysis in the lab.

It also allows crime lab employees to stay in the lab. Previously, it was assumed that crime lab employees would collect evidence from many suspected homicides, for example. In some small communities, that's still the case, Stahlke said.

In other communities, local officers and detectives can handle evidence collection in many cases. In some cases, crime lab employees can help over the telephone, he said.

"When I got here, we were going out several times a month on scenes that were not that complex," Jones said. "Now, we're managing that better."

For example, Janesville police detectives in January collected evidence from the scene of a suspected domestic homicide on South Parker Drive. The crime lab did not respond, Stahlke said.

That's an improvement from a management standpoint, Jones said.

"That allows my people to stay in the lab and do more analysis," he said. "It allows me to train my people at a higher level."

Local law enforcement agencies do not have to pay for the training. The law enforcement services division manages grant money to cover the cost of the training as well as provide $250 crime scene kits to participants, Jones said. Crime lab employees travel around the state to lower the cost for local departments.

The training includes techniques in photography as well as methods of collecting or analyzing evidence such as fingerprints or blood spatter.

Stahlke came to the crime lab in 1992 as a drug chemist. He also has expertise in blood-spatter analysis and document examination. He has been teaching the class since 2006.

He also is responsible for working as a field response coordinator when the crime lab provides mobile support to local law enforcement agencies. He has led teams in more than one homicide investigation in Rock County.

With that experience in his pocket, Stahlke set up six crime scenes for attendees to analyze Thursday. Three were in the woods behind Blackhawk Technical College. Using dummies, a few rolls of yellow police tape and other props, Stahlke staged a drug deal gone bad, a sexual assault and a hate crime.

All three cases were designed to mimic situations in which a passerby finds a body in a ditch and calls 911. Stahlke threw up the crime scene tape in a way an untrained officer might. He spun truck tires in the gravel, dropped cigarette butts at the scenes and mimicked injuries to the dummies.

Teams of participants had to assess the scenes, decide if the tape was in the right place, collect evidence and piece together what happened. Each team of trainees included a photographer.

Today, the teams will be presenting photographs and conclusions to the rest of the group.

Putting more effort into providing education for local police makes good business sense for the crime lab, Jones said.

"By providing this training to local agencies, we're providing better forensic services in partnership with local agencies, so the citizens of Wisconsin can be safer," Jones said.

Last updated: 7:50 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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