Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

'CSI Tampa Bay': Pinellas training center teaches how to find the evidence

LARGO — When Scott Campbell became a police evidence technician in the 1990s, there was no formal training program.

"It was you rolled along with a guy or two, he'd teach you how to do photography and some other stuff … then you'd go out and you winged it," he said.

But the emphasis on physical evidence in police work — lifting fingerprints, matching DNA — has steadily mounted in recent years, Campbell said, as have the expectations of jurors and a public used to watching shows like CSI.

Yet at a time when forensics is becoming more and more integral to the criminal justice system, many departments are coming up against crunched budgets, meaning formal training programs are scarce.

That's why Campbell — whose program is funded through grants by the federal government — takes his job so seriously.

In an unassuming warehouse off Belcher Road in Largo, Campbell, a retired Milwaukee police officer, teaches a three-day forensics class for the National Forensic Science Technology Center.

Law enforcement officials and crime scene technicians come from all over the country to take Campbell's crash course in CSI techniques. Students learn everything from how to properly photograph and document a crime scene to lifting a fingerprint off a golf ball.

"We've gotta start raising our game," Campbell said. "In order to do that, you've gotta have more formal training."

• • •

Anita Smith dusted black powder along the window sill.

She leaned in, close enough to allow the moisture from her breath to hit the surface.

Seconds later, an outline of a fingerprint emerged.

"This is all new to me," said Smith, who lives in Raleigh, N.C.

For the past 24 years, Smith has worked at a lab that analyzes fingerprints for local law enforcement agencies.

But soon, she'll be responsible for going out and getting that data from crime scenes.

She attended one of Campbell's classes in preparation.

"This is very different," she said while practicing techniques during a recent mock burglary investigation. "In the field, you have to think two steps ahead of yourself."

• • •

Campbell's course, which costs nearly $4,000 per student, is offered free of charge through a National Institute of Justice training grant.

Students are required to take a 16-hour online class to participate in the program. Then they get 24 hours with Campbell, who goes over several areas, including DNA, fingerprints, blood work, photography and firearms.

His students come from all different backgrounds.

Some, like Smith, have little field work experience.

Others, like Detective Thomas Moore, are no strangers to police work or collecting evidence.

Moore is a detective with the Tonawanda Police Department in New York state. He's been on the force for a dozen years, and now is responsible for responding to major scenes.

Moore said he was familiar with about 90 percent of the tools Campbell introduced.

But several items, like AccuTrans, a silicone product that can take casts of fingerprints, were new to him; or were things he'd only seen in a catalogue.

"Budgets are tight," Moore said. "The only way to see them in use is a class like this. If I can lift 20 more prints a year, it's worth it."

As a final test, Campbell divides his students into teams and has them put their skills to use by conducting a mock investigation.

In his latest class, he chose burglary as the crime.

"Property crimes are the things that impact more people," Campbell said. "But everything they do here they can apply to a homicide."

Using evidence markers, magnetic powder, flashlights, measuring tape and cameras, the students documented the scene, collected fingerprints and determined how the "burglar" made it inside the home.

After a couple of hours, Campbell brought the students back together. All the groups had collected a lot of evidence, but none had gotten everything.

One group missed a spot of blood planted on a door. Another group didn't see some fingerprints.

"Sometimes it's right in front of us and we don't see it," Campbell said. "This is how we learn."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at or (727) 893-8643.

'CSI Tampa Bay': Pinellas training center teaches how to find the evidence 03/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 1, 2010 10:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. VIDEO: Obamacare is "death,' President Trump says


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is calling Obamacare "death," as he urges Republican senators to "do the right thing" on an overhaul effort.

    President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare, Monday, July 24, 2017, in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington.[Alex Brandon | Associated Press]
  2. Dragon ride in Harry Potter section of Universal closing for new themed ride


    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019 — sending wizard fans into a guessing game with hopes for a Floo Powder Network or the maze from the Triwizard Tournament.

    Universal Orlando announced Monday that it will close Dragon Challenge on Sept. 5 for a new "highly themed" Harry Potter ride to open in 2019. The ride, originally the Dueling Dragons roller coaster, was renamed and incorporated into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when the hugely popular area opened in 2010.
  3. CDC changes Zika virus guidance for pregnant women

    Federal health officials are changing their testing recommendations for pregnant women who may be exposed to the Zika virus through travel or sex or because of where they live.

  4. Necropsy confirms drowning as Snooty the manatee's cause of death

    Human Interest

    BRADENTON— The South Florida museum aquarium will re-open Tuesday and grief counselors will be available after the untimely death of beloved manatee Snooty.

    Snooty, the Manatee County mascot, turned 60 in 2008. Hundreds of people came to the Parker Manatee Aquarium to see Snooty at his birthday party. He was the first manatee to have a recorded birth date on July 21, 1948.

 [Times (2008)]
  5. Charlie Gard's parents withdraw legal action over their sick baby


    LONDON — The parents of critically ill baby Charlie Gard dropped their legal bid Monday to send him to the United States for experimental treatment after new medical tests showed it could no longer help.

    Chris Gard and Connie Yates, the parents of critically ill infant Charlie Gard, arrive at the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of the latest High Court hearing in London Monday July 24, 2017. They  returned  to the court for the latest stage in their effort to seek permission to take the child to the United States for medical treatment. Britain's High Court is considering new evidence in the case of Charlie Gard. The 11-month-old has a rare genetic condition, and his parents want to take him to America to receive an experimental treatment. [Jonathan Brady | PA via AP]