Mock-up home teaches forensic science students to collect evidence

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Cereal boxes and a magazine rack seem like mundane items in a quiet suburban Orem home. Located minutes away from the campus, the 1970s rambler is no ordinary home but a new addition to the Forensic Science Department.

The house features two bedrooms, one bathroom, living room, dining room and laundry area. It is staged and functions as an occupied home where forensic science students can get real-life experience processing a crime scene.

The house has been fully operational since the fall semester of 2016 and is mainly utilized for the crime scene investigation techniques course. It will also be beneficial for students who are learning about forensic photography, analyzing footwear and tire impressions, as well as fingerprinting and evidence examination classes. At the home, students process evidence ranging from a simple larceny to a homicide.

The house gives students the opportunity to get more practical experience finding, collecting, documenting and processing crime scene evidence compared to a classroom lecture. Assistant professor Amie B. Houghton, a former federal agent for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, can observe from the garage using a surveillance monitor that sits opposite of two tables and 12 chairs for debriefings.

The cameras located in each room of the house provide her with the vantage point she needs to be able to evaluate students’ work. The cameras present the chance for students to work independently without interference. This arrangement also allows the instructor the flexibility of splitting the class time between lecture and practical application, without having to factor travel time to an off-site location.

According to Houghton, she is thrilled to oversee the implementation of “this great tool.” This class will provide instruction for forensic science students enrolled in the program, along with those in the Crime Scene Investigation Skills USA for whom she acts as a mentor. She will also teach and utilize the house to train cadets going through the police academy or Peace Officer Standards and Training with a specific focus on crime scene processing and evidence collection and preservation. The academy will also use the house for search warrant and arrest warrant training.

Houghton is also excited about a possible restructuring of the Forensic Science program by 2019. If approved, the new structures would separate laboratory work and field investigation as two different emphases. This would allow students to focus on their area of interest, without having to take unnecessary courses if their focus is on field work. It will also improve the retention rate of students in the program. In the past, many students have been discouraged by the amount of science requirements for graduation and change majors, which is common in the criminal justice program.

Currently, the plan is to have the house properly marked with UVU’s logo and signage to appease the concerns of neighbors and to properly identify university property.