Real Life CSI
Grant funds forensics training for HPD officer
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
Rooting through ashes for evidence and identifying human remains has become second nature to one local law enforcer.
Hartselle Police Department Lt. Tom Sparks recently returned from an intensive 10-week training program at the National Forensic Academy in Knoxville, Tenn.
While there, Sparks earned 470 hours of crime scene investigation training through mock crime scene, evidence processing, burial recovery, bombs and booby traps, arson investigation, and electronic crime scene field activities.
"It would have literally taken the department years to accumulate that amount of training for our investigators in such a short amount of time," Sparks said. "It's more training than we ever could have afforded on our own."
The department received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to cover the $12,500 tuition for Sparks to attend the NFA.
According to Sparks, he and HPD investigators Jenny Denton and Tony Fetner receive approximately 60-100 hours of additional professional training each year.
"The training we typically receive is entirely in the classroom," Sparks said. "At the NFA, the training was very hands-on. My class spent just as much time on lab and field activities as we did in the classroom. We actually put what we learned into practice"
Sparks said one field activity turned out to be an explosive experience.
"We studied bombs and booby traps in the classroom and then we went out and blew up a car," Sparks said. "Actually, a certified bomb technician detonated the vehicle, but our class practiced evidence retrieval and learned how to properly identify a car after an explosion."
Another hands-on field activity Sparks experienced was burial recovery at The University of Tennessee's Anthropological Research Facility, also known as "The Body Farm."
The area affords NFA students training in above ground body recovery, locating graves, exhuming remains for identification, and evidence preservation.
"Thankfully, Hartselle is not an area known for violent crimes," Sparks said. "But, if a body was discovered here, I now feel confident that our department could successfully recover the body and evidence without calling in the Alabama Department of Forensic Science. This training has allowed us to be less dependent on such outside sources."
Although Sparks has shared his training with the department, he hopes to find additional grant monies for Denton and Fetner to attend the NFA.
"Quality fingerprint recovery, arson evidence collection and preservation, and auto theft investigation training is very beneficial to this department," Sparks said.
"If each of our investigators receives this nationally recognized leading forensic training, the crime scene evidence we recover will be the absolute best quality, and that's what a jury expects."