Northern Nevada Students Take Class in CSI Work

By: Scott Neuffer, AP Email
By: Scott Neuffer, AP Email

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (AP) - Once again, the 200 hall of Douglas High School became a disheveled crime scene for students of Kim Tretton's forensics class.

Tretton calls it her practical - when the knowledge and skills students have learned all semester are finally put to the test amid the simulated chaos of three mock sexual assault scenes, replete with hair, clothing fibers and fake blood.

It's the fifth year the would-be CSIs have teamed up with real detectives from the Nevada Department of Public Safety's Investigation Division. Split into small groups, each assigned a different role, the students brought their best and most meticulous analysis to the investigation. The practical, along with a written component, accounts for 20 percent of the final grade.

"They have to create a portfolio that contains all the information," Tretton said during the Jan. 5 test. "In the real world, this would be used in serving a warrant to arrest the suspect."

Tretton said she has two sections of the course this year, with about 15 students in each class, though she'd like to see that number grow to 20.

Because chemistry is a prerequisite, the class is made up of juniors and seniors.

"CSI shows are still really popular, and students want to take a class dealing with their favorite TV show," Tretton said. "Of course, they find out how unrealistic their favorite TV show is."

Junior Taylor Gray, 17, used fingerprinting as an example.

"Fingerprinting is impossible sometimes," she said. "In the shows, they dust a little and then pull off a perfect print. That's not true. Most of what we can get are partial prints, and if they're smeared the tinniest bit, then the ridge characteristics are toast."

Taylor, who has an older brother studying forensics in college, said she's interested in going into the field, either as investigator or a teacher on the subject.

"I love it," she said. "There are so many more aspects to forensics than you'd think."

"There hasn't been a dull moment," said 16-year-old junior Jaime Steenburgh. "I was always that person watching CSI and case files on TV, but I wanted to know how it truly works because I knew CSI had its flaws."

Steenburgh was guarding the door of her crime scene, making sure no unauthorized personnel contaminated the evidence.

"We always stop the press," instructed Detective Rick Brown. "The tape is usually 1.5 times the size of the crime scene. Normally, we would cut off the whole hallway, and no press would be able to get this close."

Brown said usually there are both an inner and outer perimeter.

"The only ones allowed in the inner perimeter are the people working the crime scene," he explained.

"We haven't had any issues," reported Steenburgh. "We had one person try to come in. That person is now being questioned by the investigator."

Down the hall from Steenburgh, classmates Amy Rice and Ali Baxter were wrapping up their investigation.

"I like figuring out things in my mind. It's fun to collect stuff," said Baxter, an evidence collector during the practical.

Rice, also an evidence collector, said they had found two weapons, a machete and a knife, along with a bullet casing, rope, and blood.

"It's interesting, unlike any other science class here," she said.

Tretton said the class is not an easy A. She said it can be fun but difficult.

"The exams are not easy," she said. "But it is an easy class for me to teach because the students want to learn. I still feel like there is more to teach, though. Every year is really a planning and learning experience. I like to do hands-on stuff, and that takes time."

"Whether kids get into law enforcement or forensics, we're giving them the information to do it," added Brown. "These guys have gotten better training in years past than we've gotten at the police academy."


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