It takes some practice to get the casting goo to the right consistency to lift footprints from the dirt.
Thirty-six years since I began in the news biz and not once have I been dumb enough to cross the yellow crime scene tape. Until Friday morning.
It was at Burtenshaw Dorm at the college. The whole lawn across the street from the Wave Pool was taped off, as was the front door. The place was crawling with cops and the grass was flagged with those little yellow evidence markers. Toward the rear of the building, they were searching in and around the dumpster.
So I parked in the lot, hung my camera around my neck and ducked under the tape. It took maybe two seconds before an officer intercepted me. He did not approach from the side. He came head on. "Excuse me, sir. Are you with the medical examiner?"
"No, I'm with the Sun Advocate," I replied. "What's this about a medical examiner? What's going here, anyway," I asked.
"Sir, this is a crime scene. You'll have to leave. Come with me and I'll let you talk to the PIO," the cop said. PIO means public information officer. So he escorted me to to safe side of the tape where I was introduced to Richard Walton. Walton told the officer he did the right thing.
Then Walton turned to me and said, "Now go down to the far end and see how far you can get before someone stops you."
Walton, you see, had set this up. He's a criminal justice instructor at USU Eastern and this was the final day of a week of intensive CSI training for active officers. In an effort to add a little more realism to an already realistic crime scenario, he had decided to add the twist of a pushy reporter invading the area and asking questions.
Incursion two was the same as incursion one for me. Two seconds after ducking the tape an officer was in my face. They always intercept from the front, square in your path, polite but confrontational. Again, I was escorted out of the scene, this time with a warning, "If you come in again, I will arrest you. Do you understand? I will arrest you."
Same thing when I went into the building, where I got a glimpse of a chaotic dorm room before being escorted out.
So my job was done and Walton shared some information. This week is part of ongoing peace officer training, a refresher course in investigation where the police can get practice and new tips on techniques. They go over such things as photography, interpretation of blood splatter evidence, practice with bagging and tagging physical evidence to keep the chain documented and secure.
There's even hands-on practice in mixing that goo they pour in footprints to make casts for evidence.
State forensics experts are on hand as instructors and evaluators.
The classes involve anywhere from a dozen to 16 peace officers from around Southeastern Utah, any one of whom I could meet again in some unfortunate circumstance. If it happens, I'll just wave from the other side of the tape and ask for a PIO.