A group of Policing Studies and Forensics students headed out to Connecticut to attend an intensive four-day long course held at the prestigious Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences – part of the University of New Haven. They took part in an eye-opening programme focusing on shooting reconstruction and firearms investigations, headed up by renowned forensic scientist, Dr Henry Lee. Dr Lee is widely known throughout the globe for his valuable work on high profile American criminal cases, including the infamous OJ Simpson case, as well as the trial of Michael Peterson – subject of popular Netflix documentary, The Staircase.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students to meet Dr Lee himself, who coordinates the course, as well as attending thought-provoking seminars on crime scene forensics. The course was largely focused on ballistics – teaching students pioneering techniques on the meticulous and delicate process of plotting potential evidence at serious crime scenes. Students learned how the location of bullet casings can determine where a ‘shooter’ may have stood as well as how the trajectory of bullets can be established through the use of lasers and other equipment. They were also taught how to determine which, out of a series of bullets, would have been fired first – as well as how to establish the range of fire and types of weapons used in firearm-related incidents.
To round off the trip the students were thrilled to spend the weekend in New York City, where they enjoyed a well-earned rest and took in the sights. Whilst there they also had the chance to interview a group of New York cops about their daily working experiences in one of the busiest cities in the world.
We caught up with two students who took part in the trip, Erin Kelly and Jade Melvin, to hear about their experiences.
What did you discover from the teachings of Dr Henry Lee?
Erin: "We learned an unbelievable amount. The sessions were hands-on and practical, not all just in theory – even the blood spatter teachings. We witnessed firearms being shot and the impact that different powered and sized guns can have on different surfaces, as well as studying real crime scene photos of shootings, which really put all of the teachings into perspective."
Jade: "It was fascinating to learn about the different types of exit/entry wounds and patterns that can be observed on victims. We were also taught about stippling (burning of the skin which comes from gunshot residue) as well as how to recognise a muzzle stamp (if the gun is in contact with the skin) – both of which can determine how far away a gun was shot from."
What was most interesting about meeting with NYPD officers?
Erin: "It was interesting to discuss and debate their opinions on gun legality, as all the NYPD members we spoke to strongly believed that owning a gun was a necessity, whereas we disagreed on this completely. We also learned from them that the homicide rate in New York has decreased from 2,000 a year in 1990, to 250 a year in 2019. This shows the amazing progress the NYPD are making and the pride they take in their city."
Jade: "When quizzed about the issue of guns, they told us they would not want to change gun legislation in the USA. We found it fascinating that their automatic replies to this were a resounding ‘no’ to change. Aside from discussing this, they also showed us some really valuable crime scene photography skills and reconstruction techniques."
Why did you choose to study Policing Studies and Forensics?
Erin: "The thought of being a police officer really excites me. I like the idea of not knowing what every shift holds and always being on the go. I want to be able to actually enjoy the career I’ll enter into."
Jade: "For me, there was a family connection. My mum also wanted to be a police officer and my great grandad was a sergeant within the Metropolitan Police. Crime scene investigation has always been an interest to me since I was young."
How will this field trip help you in your career plans?
Erin: "I’m definitely starting to think about covert policing as a career, as this was a topic that was mentioned several times throughout the course. It’s a profession that I feel would definitely suit my personality."
Jade: "Being able to mention this opportunity on my CV is something I’m really excited about, as I know it will make me stand out to future employees. Not only have we been given the learning opportunity of a lifetime, we’ve also been provided with valuable policing contacts that can help us on our career journeys going forward."
Course leader and trip coordinator, Richard Carr, said of the visit:
"This was a great opportunity for students to develop their knowledge and understanding around forensic opportunities that may come from a firearms-related scene. It also gave them an eye-opening insight into the contrasting policing approaches of the USA and UK. Ultimately, the trip has been invaluable in terms of the exposure it has given the students, as they move further into the field of crime scene investigation. From an employability perspective, a course such as this on their CV has the ability to really set them apart from other candidates."
The trip was also a chance for the University to build upon a close working relationship with the University of New Haven, an institution we have partnered with for a number of years, and plan to collaborate with on more trips to come.
If, like Erin and Jade, you’re considering a career in policing – take a look at the courses we have on offer within the Liverpool Centre for Advanced Policing Studies. From forensic psychology to studying cybercrime, we provide the highest standard of learning and guidance when it comes to the varying routes you can take towards a career in policing.