Television shows like CSI and NCIS make it look easy. But Mason graduate student Taylor McGee says making sense out of a real crime scene isn’t quite that simple.
McGee and a group of her classmates from Mason’s Forensic Science Program recently got a real look at what processing a crime scene entails when they made the trek to Mason’s new crime scene house.
“Shows like [CSI and NCIS] are interesting, but they’re not in any way indicative of what really goes on,” McGee says.
Located in a quiet, residential neighborhood near the Fairfax Campus, the crime scene house has eight rooms. Each has been carefully set up to recreate the details of the very real crime scenes that Forensic Science Program director Mary Ellen O’Toole and her experienced team of crime scene investigators have worked in the past.
“We’ve made every effort to make this as close to real life as we can,” says O’Toole, a former FBI profiler. “The idea was to give our students the experience of entering a real home crime scene.”
That will eventually include (mannequin) bodies and (fake) blood spatter, and learning to meticulously process hair fibers, fingerprints, and everything else that goes with such a grisly scenario. An SUV is parked outside, so students can learn how to process a crime scene in a vehicle as well.
Cameras set up throughout the house let O’Toole and other faculty carefully monitor and evaluate each group’s progress.
Instructors teach the students to be analytical without rushing to judgment, and to pay strict attention to the slightest detail and crime scene protocols. That’s essential if the students are to get to the bottom of the mystery and accurately chronicle evidence that could be critical to solving a crime. It’s the kind of hands-on experiential learning Mason forensic students will need in the field.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” said graduate student Georgia Williams. “I liked that we got to do things that are practical. As we saw, it doesn’t happen in 45 minutes [like on the TV shows].”