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September 23, 2004
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Penn. police get demo of new crime scene methods

New York State Police Sgt. Chuck Stumpf, clad in a protective suit, surveys a mock contaminated drug scene at the Regional Support and Training Center in Homestead yesterday as area police officers look on.
A state police trooper, clad in a protective suit, was observed inspecting a possible contaminated crime scene in Homestead.

No, it was not a large-scale drug bust near the Waterfront. Instead, it was a demonstration put on by instructors from the New York State Police Crime Scene Investigation Unit based out of Albany.

The demonstration was for the benefit of several Allegheny County police officers and other officers from the surrounding region at the Allegheny County District Attorney''s Regional Support and Training Center in Homestead yesterday.

Instructors Eric Cullum, Chuck Stumpf, Rich Nuzzo and Carolina Williams displayed a unit truck, video equipment and other pieces of technology used to better process crime scenes, particularly those in contaminated areas.

Stumpf, a sergeant with the New York State Police in Albany, donned a protective suit and self-contained breathing apparatus while Nuzzo narrated the actions of his colleague investigating a mock crime scene.

Nuzzo also toted a video camera, recording the scene as Stumpf went about his work. Cullum, along with Williams, monitored the progress of their co-workers in the field.

Cullum said the program is a teleforensics-based lab that allows other crime professionals such as forensic pathologists and other investigators to probe the crime scene from a remote location.

"We are simply using the technology to our advantage," Cullum said. "This is a mobile crime lab that allows us to document and send information back to another lab."

Cullum added a forensic pathologist based in Albany or Rochester can view the investigation of a homicide in Syracuse or New York City if it is so needed.

"We don''t have to wait five hours for a pathologist to show up any longer," Cullum said.

The teleforensics program first was installed in the Empire State in 2001 and has enjoyed a measure of success, Cullum added.

"We can have someone, a second opinion, look at a scene and tell us something about a blood-stain pattern, or something to that effect," the instructor said.

Nuzzo added an officer, clad in heavy protective garments, sometimes can have tunnel vision and may need help from his co-workers located in the truck.

The lab is situated on the chassis of a Ford F-450 heavy duty truck and contains Internet access, satellite telephones, satellite television, and other technological advances needed on the scene.

"We can pull in the local news and check out the weather and see what we may be getting into," Nuzzo said.

Nuzzo said the program has four separate branches located throughout the state in Buffalo, Albany, New York City, and upstate New York.

Allegheny County District Attorney''s Office Inspector Darrell Parker said the demonstration showed how far technology has come when it pertains to scene processing and investigation.

"We''ve been pursuing ways to elevate our level of crime scene investigations," he added. "This demonstration hopefully will help us do that."

Parker said the office has two similar vehicles, one housed in West Mifflin and the other in Pittsburgh''s North Hills.

"We''re not quite at the level of New York state when it comes to this yet," Parker added. "But we''re working towards that."

Parker equated the technology to the evolution of transporting injured victims at a traffic accident.

"It used to be police officers would put the victim in the back seat of a squad car and drive them off to the hospital," he said. "But the hospitals decided to take medical professionals to the scene and care for victims on the way to the hospital. Now, instead of bringing all the evidence back to a crime lab, we can bring more of the lab to the scene."

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