Weaver police now have a $300 sterile crime scene kit, free of charge, thanks to a grant and partnership between Jacksonville State University’s Center for Applied Forensics and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
A small department of eight, the Weaver Police Department was overjoyed at the opportunity for free training, focused on the use of disposable tools, and a free kit, Lt. Charles Plitt said Wednesday.
“This gives a small department like ours the opportunity to get on the same sheet of music as these other departments,” Plitt said. “This is a lot of equipment and money that we wouldn’t normally be able to have.”
Through a grant submitted to the department by Mark Hopwood, senior forensic scientist, the center was able to fund 100 kits for departments that participate in training, he said. Fourteen law enforcement agencies attended the training Wednesday at McClellan and each left with a kit. The total amount awarded to the center was about $34,000, Hopwood said.
Funding the kits was about a 90-day process, Brian Forester, law enforcement programs supervisor with the department, said Wednesday.
“Mark submitted an application to us to fund the kits and the training to use the kits,” Forester said. “We reviewed the application, and submitted it to the governor with a recommended dollar amount, and then once it was approved we had to send it back to Mark to accept the grant.”
The money for the grant came out of the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, a program that funds state and local law enforcement efforts such as training, Forester said.
Hopwood said he holds training for law enforcement agencies throughout the year, but this is the first training where participants were given tools to take back with them.
“This is the first class focused on sterile samplings,” he said. “This is also the first class we are able to give them the tools to be able to practice what we preach.”
Forester said he recognized the need to work with the center after surveying law enforcement in the state.
“We were developing a strategic plan and consistently we were being told law enforcement needed more training opportunities,” he said. “It is a great partnership to help provide this hands on training.”
With budget cuts, small local departments suffer, Forester said.
“Local police budgets are strapped,” he said. “After today they will be able to take back and use these kits, paid for with federal money instead of their own.”
The kits, filled with disposable evidence collection materials, evidence markers and scales, will help police departments collect evidence in the most accurate way possible, Hopwood said.
“What are the two things defense attorneys try to say to discredit evidence collection?” Hopwood asked the classroom of about 30 officers. “Contamination, and chain of custody,” a few officers mumbled.
Standard protocol calls for officers to use 10 percent bleach on their evidence collection tools to decontaminate them, Hopwood said.
“How many of y’all have that 10 percent bleach in your Charger or whatever vehicle you drive?” Hopwood asked. “Not a one of you. If your tools are disposable then you don’t have to worry about contamination.”