Hands-on learning at forensics camp

Published 9:23 pm Thursday, June 22, 2017

When a stolen vehicle was located at the Health and Human Services building this week, a team of young investigators was on the case.

How young? They haven’t even graduated from high school yet.

Nearly five dozen children ages 12 to 15 participated this week in the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Forensics Camp. They heard from prosecutors and law enforcement personnel, investigated mock crime scenes — like the “stolen” vehicle — and had lots of fun.

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“This is the largest we’ve had so far,” said Joan Turner, community outreach coordinator for the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Suffolk’s sheriff’s deputies have partnered with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office each year to explain evidence collection, processing and court testimony.

Sheriff’s deputy Debbie Callis said the program shows what it takes to process a real crime scene, rather than the fast-paced fiction shown on television.

“It takes patience and dedication to process a real crime scene,” Callis said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office General District Team members Vaughn Breedlove and George Bruch were guest speakers at the camp, along with Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew Glassman.

“They spoke about robbery, assaults and burglary, and how evidence assisted them in the court room,” Turner said.

Children spent the first three days learning crime scene procedures and criminal law.

“It teaches the kids the behind-the-scenes part, the foot work and leg work that CSI people do on a regular basis,” said Niyasia Scott, Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Virginia junior staff member and a volunteer at the camp.

On Thursday, they put those lessons to use in mock crime scenes at the City of Suffolk Health and Human Services building on Hall Avenue.

The mock crime scenes required them to take photos, collect evidence and take detailed notes. The exercises also incorporated math and science components that are intrinsic to crime scene investigations.

“All sciences that are related to law enforcement are in these crime scenes,” Turner said.

One of the scenes was a car arranged as a stolen vehicle, filled with evidence samples for the children to collect and analyze.

“They’re able to come out here and do it for themselves,” said Sean Brennan, a retired Suffolk police officer and one of the instructors. “They’re not just sitting in a classroom.”

The exercises made a strong impression on some of the young crime scene investigators, as they examined the evidence at the scenes and drew conclusions.

“I usually thought detectives did all the work, but you can basically solve a case by looking at all this stuff,” said 13-year-old Adam Deaton. “The evidence never lies.”

Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson will present certificates to the children at a graduation ceremony Friday. For some of them, the ceremony will be another step towards a career in the field.

“We have turned out several students that went on to college to study criminal justice and forensics,” Callis said.

This experience also benefited some of the volunteers, such as Arneka Perry, a Virginia Commonwealth University sophomore and Suffolk native studying forensics science.

“I’m actually learning it first hand,” Perry said.