UWG Conducts “BONES-like” Mock Forensic Crime Scene Training

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dr. Kerriann Marden, director of the Biological and Forensic Anthropology Laboratory, (2nd from left) conducts mock crime scene training for the Cartersville Police Department’s Criminal Investigation DivisionAs the sun pierced through the autumn leaves in a quiet meadow behind the bustling University of West Georgia campus, the faux remains of a female “victim” rested in a staged crime scene, awaiting discovery by members of the Cartersville Police Department in training on Monday, Nov. 5.

This mock forensic crime scene training is one of several services provided by UWG’s new Biological and Forensic Anthropology Laboratory (BAFAL) to law enforcement agencies, coroners, medical examiners and medicolegal professionals. The lab also offers assistance with both forensic archaeological recovery and forensic anthropological analysis.

Headed by Dr. Kerriann Marden, professor of anthropology, BAFAL is one of several such facilities currently in the United States. Anthropologists increasingly assist in search, recovery and analysis of human remains in a medicolegal context, and the BAFAL is uniquely positioned to provide case consultation and training to medicolegal professionals in the region.

Dr. Marden and several Anthropology students staged the mock crime scene on Saturday, Nov. 3. They placed a combination of real animal bone fragments and replica human bones, decomposing animal tissue and personal effects such as jewelry and ballistics in and around a shallow grave. Great care was taken to present the most realistic crime scene for the Cartersville Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division (CPD CID), drawing upon Dr. Marden’s considerable field experience.

Cartersville Police begin the excavation of the skeletal remains under the tutelage of Anthropology major William Phillip“We try to stage the mock scenes as realistically as possible to allow law enforcement and other medicolegal professionals to experience the real challenges that they may encounter when recovering human remains; scavengers, weather, insects, soil, odors, etc., as well as learning the basic archaeological skills,” said Dr. Marden. “Crime scene investigation requires a unique set of skills – the law enforcement officials with whom we partner come to us with that already in place. Applying archaeological methods introduces a third dimension and adds rigor to the manner in which they are already collecting evidence when a body is found.”

The team from CPD was instructed in conducting a scene search, artifact mapping – both manually and through the use of a Total Station (electronic surveying device) – as well as the bagging and tagging of artifacts and excavation techniques.

The CPD CID team was encouraged to be as hands on as possible – documenting findings, identifying and excavating bones and preserving forensic evidence such as tissue, insects and other items which could be used to tell the story of the “victim’s” untimely death.

“I have been wanting to have this type of training provided for our investigators for quite some time,” said Cartersville Police Chief Thomas Culpepper. “Even though it may be a rare event for the Cartersville Police Department to process this type of crime scene in real life, the training provides our officers with the tools they need to actually do so when that time comes. I would like to thank Dr. Marden for her willingness to provide this training for us and thank everyone else from the University of West Georgia who assisted.”

Cartersville Police collect forensic evidence from the mock crime scene conducted by UWG’s Biological and Forensic Anthropology Lab (BAFAL)“This team was really willing to get in there, get their hands dirty and learn. We look forward to working with Cartersville Police Department in the future and to providing training exercises for personnel from other agencies in the state as well,” Dr. Marden said. “We’d also like to thank the City of Carrollton Police Department, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department and Carrollton City Manager Casey Coleman for their support and for the use of the City of Carrollton Firing Range as the location of our mock crime scene.”

Learn more about BAFAL by visiting its website or contacting Dr. Marden at kmarden@westga.edu.