Stundents at Hamline taking pictures for the Forensic Photography Course

Forensic Photography Course Puts Students Into Staged Crime Scene

Those who entered Bridgman Hall in Hamline’s Old Main on March 31 bore witness to a “gruesome” scene: Two mannequins, marked with fake gunshot wounds, laid in the empty auditorium. Shell casings and general disarray would further tell a story—one that Hamline students were tasked with documenting and figuring out.

The scene was part of a lab put together by Dr. Jamie Spaulding, assistant professor who teaches in the criminology and criminal justice program and the forensic science program for his forensic photography class. More than a dozen students entered the “crime scene” in pairs – one acting as photographer, the other documenting the scene with notes and information.

Here is what they found out: The first mannequin was giving a speech at the dais when a gunman entered the upper level of the hall, shooting the speaker (as evidenced by the shell casings found in the upper level) before also shooting a fleeing audience member.

The forensics photography class is one of nine forensics courses Spaulding has built at Hamline in less than two years. These courses are part of Hamline's majors in forensic science and investigative and forensic science.

The crime scene lab gives Hamline students the opportunity to practically apply what they’ve learned in class, while also dealing with the intricacies of navigating a live crime scene.

“Every Tuesday we talk about something, every Thursday we put a camera in their hands and they do it—this is one of those exercises,” Spaulding said. “Students build skills with the camera and then take it to a crime scene and actually produce crime scene quality photos that you would present in court.”

Spaulding holds his students to high standards, having earned a PhD at West Virginia University—the second university in the country to develop a forensic science PhD (Spaulding was a member of the first graduating class).

“When students go through my classes they should be doing the same types of things they would do if they were at the BCA,” Spaulding said. “Oftentimes we find that students go through our classes, do this kind of work, and when they go to internship sites they know more about what they should be doing than the people who work there. So it gives them tangible skills that directly translate to their future careers.”

Throughout the course, Spaulding leads labs that provide students with a crucial opportunity for growth in a unique program that provides training that has the potential to affect all Minnesota communities.

“Forensic science is one thing we need a high standard for so we get it right,” he said. “I can’t have students go out and make mistakes in their careers, I need them to make them for me (as part of the learning process). That drives the standard and I think that advances the practice in Minnesota.”

Spaulding said his goal next fall is to kick things up a notch and mock a full crime scene simulation, complete with reporters, distracting squad lights and a middle-of-the-night setting.