Salem International offers CSI program - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Salem International offers CSI program

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SALEM, W.Va. (AP) — It's not for everybody, but Nikki Grambo may have found her fit.

Blood and gore of a crime scene?

"I don't have a problem with that kind of stuff," the Salem International sophomore said.

She looks at the bigger picture of work as a juvenile attorney "just to give people second chances."

Grambo wants to give youth "the chance to better themselves."

But along the way, she'll earn her criminal justice degree with a crime scene investigation specialization at Salem International University.

The CSI program offers five specialized classes within the criminal justice major. Classes include: Crime scene photography, fingerprint identification and impression evidence, ballistics and firearm identification, courtroom testimony and report writing.

Television shows "definitely" sparked interest in the major, according to Laurie McKowen, coordinator of the criminal justice program.

Salem International offered CSI specialization in the fall of 2009, said Debra Harrison, provost.

Besides interest, opportunities are expanding because technology related to crime-scene investigation is expanding, according to McKowen.

Most graduates can start work in smaller cities as a law enforcement officer, and work up to specialization and crime scene investigation, according to McKowen.

Of all crime scene investigators, 95 percent are sworn-in police officers, said Hayden Baldwin, director of the International Crime Scene Investigators Association.

Mostly, the officers do more than one job besides processing crime scenes, he said.

But in bigger cities, "you can get right into the crime scene," McKowen said.

Some then specialize in DNA testing machines, and become experts on topics like paint chips or glass fragments, for example.

"We need CSI professionals to be involved in all types of analysis," McKowen said. "In the real world, people tend to specialize."

Salem is working on internships with the local FBI unit.

Salem's program "offers them a good base for entering the field," according to McKowen.

Students learn, for example, to keep evidence safe by maintaining a "chain of custody."

By the time evidence from a crime scene reaches the courtroom, it should only have been in authorized hands. And investigators should be able to prove that's the case.

Or, students learn that DNA is "the gold standard" in identifying suspects.

At a stabbing, for example, the perpetrator frequently cuts his or her own hands in the process.

Finding blood at the scene that doesn't match the victim is a pretty good bet that it's the perpetrator's blood, McKowen said.

Match that blood from an earlier crime with millions of DNA samples in the FBI database "right here in our own town," and investigators are on their way, according to McKowen.

But things aren't always as they seem.

That's what Camm Lownsbury, Salem adjunct professor, wants his students to know. He teaches crime-scene management, ballistics classes and crime-scene photography.

He's branched out into crime-scene investigation from early work as a patrolman: "The more I saw, the more I realized there was to learn."

Lownsbury knows snap judgments happen. But investigators shouldn't be funneled into one path and closed off to other ways.

"Never believe that it's really what it looks like," he said. "Let the evidence lead you to the suspect, and not the other way around."

Salem International's crime-scene investigation classes are offered both online and on campus. The next class on campus — fingerprint identification and impression evidence — begins in January.

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.