Our road trip gets fully underway on Sunday when we travel to Memphis. But today, we traveled to Oak Ridge to get a glimpse of one of the agencies that is part of the UT Institute for Public Service (IPS). Headquartered in Knoxville, IPS consists of the Center for Industrial Services, County Technical Assistance Service, Law Enforcement Innovation Center, Municipal Technical Advisory Service and the Naifeh Center for Effective Leadership. IPS “takes the expertise of a statewide university to the communities of Tennessee by helping leaders in government, business and law enforcement solve real world problems every day,” according to its website.
IPS has offices all over the state, but we picked one location to visit. The expertise we experienced today is part of the Law Enforcement Innovation Center, which provides training and technical assistance to law enforcement. We dropped in on a session of the National Forensic Academy, which is an intensive 10-week crime scene training course for law enforcement professionals. Most of the 25 students per session are established investigators or officers, and they come from agencies across the world.
This is week eight of the 10-week program, and the topic of the week deals with crime scenes involving a shooting. When we arrived at the NFA, which by the way is in a very nice but non-descript office building off the Oak Ridge turnpike, the students were in the lab, examining the bullet trajectories and impacts on various objects. An upholstered car seat, concrete block, piece of a wall, car door, windshield and plywood with multiple bullet holes in them were perched on lab tables. There were nine examination stations with three or four students around them studying the bullet holes. Some of them put long yellow rods into the holes to show the trajectory. It immediately had the look of a TV police show, except that you know the officers are not actors and they will be solving real crimes using these techniques.
We talked to both instructors for this module of the session. NFA brings in experts in different subject areas throughout the 10 weeks, and that is one thing that makes the academy unique, said instructor Howard Ryan, who spent 25 years with the New Jersey state police and now in retirement heads up the Morris County (N.J.) sheriff’s office investigation unit. And the facility NFA has in Oak Ridge is another unique feature. “The dedication (NFA) showed up front has not been replicated,” he said. While other universities are beginning training courses in crime scene investigation, “UT is really at the front, still,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s fellow instructor is Jim Molinaro, and they have been teaching together for 19 years. They have been teaching together at NFA for six years. And as you might wonder, yes, law enforcement officials do have a sense of humor. We even helped Ryan play a joke on Molinaro, who now works in the Hunterdon County (N.J.) prosecutor’s office. My colleague Erica Jenkins was videotaping in the lab, and we had Ryan talking about his experience with NFA when Molinaro noticed and was laughing. So Ryan asked us to get Molinaro on tape and then ask him why he looks like Steve Carell, which he really does. I asked him to say his name and explain what he does at NFA. Then I was going to ask him why he looks like Steve Carell, but instead of Steve I said Jim. He still knew what I was going to say because apparently this is an ongoing gag and filled in Steve Carell for me. Everyone got a big laugh, and luckily no one played any jokes on us. (In the photo, Molinaro is on the left and Ryan is on the right.)