Reference Citation: Schiro, G. LASCI, A Model Organization. Southern Lawman Magazine, Summer 1999.
George Schiro, MS, F-ABC
Professional Development: two words that mean nothing to the apathetic and strike fear into the hearts of short-sighted administrators. The apathetic just don’t care and the short-sighted administrators interpret these learning opportunities as a waste of money, an excuse for employees to get out of work, and a loss of productivity. To the enthusiastic professional and the secure administrator, professional development opportunities are a gold mine of education, self-improvement, and a more competent workforce.
As a forensic scientist/crime scene investigator, I embrace every opportunity to expand my horizons and learn new skills, techniques, and theories. I belong to international, national, regional, and state professional organizations that sponsor occasional training. The organization that has provided me with the best, hands-on crime scene training is the most unassuming and least known organization. The organization to which I am referring is the Louisiana Association of Scientific Crime Investigators (LASCI). It is the type of association that any group of crime scene investigators and forensic scientists can organize locally and then later expand as more law enforcement agencies become interested.
LASCI meets monthly and consists primarily of crime scene investigators, detectives, and forensic scientists. A typical monthly meeting begins with a short business meeting, followed by a lecture from a member or invited guest on some aspect of evidence collection, preservation, and analysis, then hands-on exercises using the knowledge gained in the lecture and information shared among the participants. As an added incentive, a meal, usually cooked by a member, is provided at the end of the meeting. LASCI has a set of by-laws, elected officers, and five standing committees, the most active of which is the training committee. It is responsible for providing suggestions on monthly speakers, workshops, and seminar topics. According to LASCI's by-laws, membership is “available to persons of professional competency, integrity, and good moral character who are employed in the Criminal Justice System in Louisiana.”
LASCI’s roots go back to evidence technician training schools held by the North Louisiana Crime Laboratory in Shreveport. Danny Brewer, a motivated crime scene investigator with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, approached Travis Owen, a legendary Southern forensic scientist and then director of the Acadiana Crime Laboratory, and Chris Henderson, a forensic scientist at the Acadiana Crime Lab in New Iberia. New Iberia is in the heart of Cajun country and may be best known as the setting for many of James Lee Burke’s mystery novels. Danny asked if it would be possible to set up a format similar to the North Louisiana’s evidence technician school. He envisioned a program in which forensic scientists and more experienced crime scene investigators could train detectives, new forensic scientists, and new crime scene investigators in the latest evidence collection, preservation, and analytical techniques available. Chris and Travis thought that it would be feasible to have monthly meetings, hands-on activities, and a meal at an affordable cost and still have funds for future training. In 1988, a set of by-laws were composed and 24 charter members founded LASCI. Although Travis has since retired, Chris, along with several members of regional law enforcement agencies, other Acadiana Crime Lab forensic scientists, and forensic scientists at the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab have been the driving force and backbone of this organization. LASCI has grown to over 170 members representing 57 law enforcement agencies throughout Louisiana.
The great thing that separates LASCI from other professional organizations is the frequency and quality of the training sessions. LASCI has covered a wide variety of crime scene and forensic science topics from routine collection and documentation of latent prints to the more subtle nuances of bloodspatter evidence. Topics have included using alternate light sources, crime scene sketching, collection and analysis of glass evidence, serial number restoration, bitemark identification, collection of shoeprint evidence, shooting reconstruction, firearms evidence, and collection and preservation of insects associated with dead bodies. Speakers have ranged from local crime scene investigators and forensic scientists to nationally recognized experts like Mary Manhein, a forensic anthropologist and author of the recently released book The Bone Lady, and Skip Palenik, one of the top forensic microscopists in the world.
These topics and speakers have provided crime scene investigators, detectives, and forensic scientists with practical experience in collecting and preserving a wide variety of evidence. The training provides the participants with field conditions and laboratory settings so they can experiment with different techniques, particularly new and cutting edge technologies. The investigator can experience which techniques work the best and under what conditions they operate best. The participants can make mistakes in an experimental setting instead of making the mistake on a crucial piece of evidence at an actual crime scene. The investigator also learns what is beyond his or her capability and if a specialist needs to be contacted.
A side benefit of the meetings is the contacts made among various law enforcement agencies throughout the state. At each meeting, at least 100 years of investigative experience and several agencies are represented. These contacts have boosted cooperation and communication among LASCI's participating law enforcement agencies. About once a year, LASCI has its own version of unsolved mysteries. Law enforcement agencies present information concerning an unsolved case or two. After presenting the case, the meeting attendees brainstorm, see if any agencies have similar cases, and present investigative ideas that may help solve the case. At one meeting, an agency presented information on a series of rapes that occurred in a particular area over several years. After presenting the information, several members suggested that the rapist might be a police officer. At the beginning of this year, after DNA evidence tied him to the cases, a suspect was arrested for the rapes. He confessed and pled guilty to several counts of rape. Just as those LASCI members suspected, he was a police officer.
At this point you are probably asking how much does it cost to belong to such a great organization. The annual dues for LASCI are a whopping $10.00 a year. The attendance fee for meetings are $5.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members (membership does have its privileges). With these minimal costs, LASCI provides great training and still has money left over for its treasury. As I stated earlier, the meals are an added incentive to attend the meetings. These meals have ranged from delivered pizza to home cooked Cajun delicacies, such as crawfish etouffe. Where else can you have a great meal for $5.00 these days.
While the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction (ACSR) are excellent organizations, I think that local or state organizations, such as LASCI, are more beneficial to crime scene investigators and detectives. If you are interested in starting an organization similar to LASCI, begin by contacting your regional crime lab. Ask them if they would be willing to help form such an organization. If they are willing, then approach several law enforcement agencies surrounding your jurisdiction and drum up support from their detectives and crime scene investigators. If they are willing, draw up some by-laws and a charter membership. Pick some training topics and then roll with it.
Be forewarned, an organization of this type requires work and is not for the faint of heart. For a LASCI shooting reconstruction workshop I once taught, I had some mock walls built, and I had to find an abandoned car door and house door. I hauled these items to an outdoor shooting range and then spent half the day in the Louisiana summer heat shooting at these objects with various weapons from different positions and taking numerous measurements. The extra work put into a good workshop is well worth the professional development gained by the class and the instructor. If you form a similar organization, you, your department, and the community will all reap the benefits. If you would like more information on LASCI, you can contact me at (337) 322-2724 or through e-mail at Gjschiro@cs.com.