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University of Central Oklahoma unveils forensic science building

Written by Neal Lorenzi

The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), in Edmond, Okla., recently opened a Forensic Science Institute (FSI) building directly across the street from an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) Forensic Science Center that opened in 2008—creating a crime fighting, CSI-like complex for state law enforcement investigators and students. The new $12 million building features a 165-seat auditorium, four classrooms, a conference room and an evidence processing and collection training facility.

Labs and equipment are shared by the university and the bureau, allowing students and state law enforcement investigators to work alongside each other. Students benefit by gaining practical experience while they receive classroom training. At the same time, OSBI professionals receive hands-on teaching experience while mentoring the next generation of forensic experts in their home state.
“This has been a highly anticipated opening on many levels,” said Dwight Adams, director of UCO forensic science. “We’re excited about the opportunity our students are getting. Not only do they get a new, state-of-the-art structure, but the chance to work alongside the professionals they strive to become.” The university and the bureau work together in a number of areas: student internships, student research on projects submitted by OSBI and continuing education for bureau personnel. In addition, OSBI professionals serve as guest lecturers and adjunct faculty at the university.

“It’s hard not to get excited about the partnership that OSBI Director DeWade Langley and UCO President Roger Webb have developed with these two entities,” added Charles Curtis, forensic science director at the OSBI facility. “Our employees are thrilled at having the opportunity to work with UCO students and faculty. We just might be developing future employees for the Bureau.” Reaction to the new building and state-of-the-art learning facilities it provides has been positive among students, faculty and law enforcement personnel. 

Adams, a UCO graduate and former director of the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., returned to the Edmond campus four years ago hoping to create an institute where students are educated and professionals continue their training. “Our degree program here is unique and innovative,” he explained. “This type of program is found nowhere else in the country.” The fall 2010 class includes 295 undergraduate and 32 graduate students. According to Adams, the Forensic Science Institute was established in 2006 and assumed the lead role over the academic program in fall 2009. The institute was conceived as a training and research organization for students, professionals and first responders in all aspects of evidence collection, preservation, analysis, reporting and testimony.

The new FSI building incorporates the latest computer technology. One highlight is the AT&T Digital Evidence and Cyber Security Laboratory, made possible through a $1 million grant from the AT&T Foundation. The laboratory was created to advance forensic expertise and training.

“Computer forensics, digital forensics and cyber security training, research and services are vital to most investigations today,” Adams noted. “The AT&T Laboratory represents a state-wide effort to use digital evidence to prosecute white-collar and violent crimes.” Thanks to this initiative, training and casework support in cell phone, audio/video, digital camera and computer forensics is now available to all Oklahoma law enforcement agencies.

Building Design

The new FSI building as well as the OSBI center were designed by architectural-engineering firm Frankfurt-Short-Bruza, Oklahoma City. Although the facilities were designed and constructed for different clients, the FSB staff drew on its background in forensics and laboratory research design to ensure the buildings complemented each other. “We made sure that both projects adhered to the clients’ specific requirements while working together to create the complex,” said Philip McNayr, a principal at FSB.

“The goal was to create an iconic building on this site, which lies adjacent to the ‘front door’ of the university,” McNayr explained. The use of materials, colors and lighting accentuates crisp lines within the building and reinforces the high technology utilized in forensic work.

McNayr said his firm incorporated the needs of forensic science learning into the building design. “Unique to this forensic program and building is a large open space where different crime scenes can be created or re-created,” he noted. “This space—whether it is staged as a hotel room, a living room or any other crime scene—is used to teach students how to approach a crime scene, collect evidence, and explore what may have transpired. This space can even house vehicles that are planted with evidence and used to teach students.” The building also contains a large, tiered auditorium that seats 150 students and is equipped for two-way distance learning. The auditorium has special lighting and audio systems that are used for recording lectures that become professional training films.

Looking ahead, UCO President Roger Webb sees the opening of the FSI building as a step in the right direction for law enforcement. “To some, this was ambitious and not in keeping with reality,” he concluded. “Yet, what students are learning here is to learn the truth so the scales of justice can be balanced. We have no idea where science and technology will take us in the future. We do know that criminals and terrorists will be here. That is why a program like this is so important.”

Neal Lorenzi has 20 years of experience in research, reporting, writing, copy-editing and graphic design. He can be reached at neal.lorenzi@gmail.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2010

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