The Crime Scene Laboratory

The Crime Scene Lab is supported by:
The College of Health & Human Services

Marin County Sheriff's Office

The crime scene lab was opened by Chair Maguire in 2013 to assist students and faculty in meeting learning goals of investigative and policing courses.  It was determined there was a need for practical exercises in classes such as CRJ 004 General Investigative Techniques, CRJ 153 Advanced Criminal Investigation, CRJ 152 Interviewing & Detection of Deception, and CRJ 154 Introduction to Physical Evidence as well as benefitting other classes and instructors as needed.  The lab has been open for tours to dignitaries, students, and academic officials as an example of what can be accomplished if the need is there.

The laboratory was designed to represent a typical (small) residence complete with a kitchen, bedroom, family room and other rooms as designated by moving partitions, donated furniture, fixtures, and personal items.  For example, by moving some partitions, an instructor can replicate an interview room complete with video recording in order to teach interviewing and interrogating witnesses/suspects apart from using the entire lab.  The convenience of being able to quickly and easily modify the lab by moving partitions and furniture allows groups of students to go though the lab while changing the scenarios.

General Investigative Techniques classes can easily reach 50+ students.  The professors for these classes have devised systems whereby each student is able and required to investigate a “crime scene” while going through the course.  Professors typically recreate a scene from their experiences and have the students learn how to work that scene.

Throughout the semester, the Advanced Criminal Investigations class may go through multiple scenes ranging in difficulty.  This class is typically required to initiate investigations ranging from trespassing to an unattended death.  These students may work on a crime scene file containing physical evidence logs, investigator’s notes, crime scene rough sketches, final “to scale” drawings, witness statements, suspect statements and waiver of rights, laboratory “reports” on submitted evidence, and other paperwork need to file a case.  Their case is then presented to the professor who acts as the district attorney.  The case then goes to a mock trial where the students testify as to their investigation based on evidence obtained from the crime scene (laboratory).  The scene and process is as close to the real experience as possible.

Students who are not actually working in the lab can view and hear the students who are inside the lab by means of four cameras mounted within the lab.  In this manner, students can learn through others’ experiences even while not actually present in the lab.  Any event may be recorded and watched later to help reinforce the students’ learning and point out best practices or mistakes.  As well, any mock interviews or interrogations can be videoed for educational purposes.

The lab has been generously equipped with items to investigate most crime scenes and detect evidence.  Equipment ranges from cameras to take crime scene photos and evidence bags to collect and tag evidence to the more specialized equipment like a portable fingerprint fuming chamber and blood splatter kits.  There is enough equipment to properly investigate almost any scene to a high standard of quality.

Professors with decades of practical experience teach the classes and laboratory – some professors are even current, local law enforcement.  The lab, the equipment, and the practical, hands-on experience that students get while in the lab classes lead to an unforgettable experience.

As not all crimes are committed inside a perfectly temperature-controlled room, the lab is equipped to “go mobile.”  The instructors routinely stage mock crime scenes near the Alpine building.  The same types of scenes (suspicious death, robbery, missing person) are investigated but with added elements. Things taken for granted that “rookie” detectives or investigators just learning their craft sometimes do not take into account.  Some are nuisances like wind blowing paperwork and fingerprint powder around or not helping the placement of fingerprint tape while 

other issues are more insidious.  Weather deteriorates evidence.  Fragile evidence such as blood and blood patterns in rain, footprints, etc. are not as preserved as if in a classroom environment.  Students learn quickly that heat, cold, wind, rain, and other elements make crime scene investigation more challenging.  For this and other reasons, the faculty tries to stage at least one mock crime scene during the semester.  It’s not as easy as programs like CSI would lead one to believe.