Unit trains CSI students

The Mobile Crime Scene Unit provides students with specialized kits for investigating crime scenes including a fingerprint kit.

The Mobile Crime Scene Unit provides students with specialized kits for investigating crime scenes including a fingerprint kit.

Education is on wheels for the criminal justice department at Missouri Southern.

Standing 12 feet tall, the Mobile Crime Scene Unit has exceeded its expectations within a year’s time. Greg Dagnan, assistant professor of criminal justice, said his goals are already achieved.

“The major thing that the criminal justice department here is really big on is having students get in their hands the best technology possible,” Dagnan said.

The $100,000 mobile unit provides students with specialized kits for certain areas in investigating crime scenes. Dagnan’s favorite “toy” in investigating crime scenes, is the forensic light source, a device that can cost up to $14,000.

“Crime scene technology is very expensive,” Dagnan said. “Majority of it is not from the van, it’s because of the individual examination kits.”

A common misconception about the unit is it is referred to it as a mobile crime scene laboratory, which is not accurate. The unit can initiate any field test, but the unit does not have the sophistication of a laboratory.

One particular box within the unit is the fingerprint kit for postmortem examination. This kit provides tools for performing tasks to collect fingerprints from the deceased; such as needles to inflate fingertips, and a tool called a spoon for ink prints.

“You may not want to know what all of this is for,” Dagnan said.

Not only does the unit provide learning tools for potential future investigators, but the unit itself is a tool for a crime scene investigation as well.

“If you’ve got a big outdoor scene, you can get up there and see everything,” Dagnan said. “You may see evidence from up there you can’t see down on the ground, like a tire track or a foot print. It’s an observation deck, but it’s an awesome place to take crime scene photos. It is just outstanding.”

According to Dagnan, the unit has Southern students a jump ahead of other universities in the field. Additionally, the unit might be able to venture off Southern’s campus.

“We have talked about figuring out a way to offer it to law enforcement agencies,” he said. “We’re still trying to work out the logistics of how to get it at a crime scene and still have it for student use. My goals are to train [the students] with the equipment that they have the potential of using, and so when they leave here people see a Missouri Southern graduate, and say ‘Oh. They know what they’re doing.'”

About a year ago, Dr. Blake Wolf, the criminal justice department head at the time, recommended Dagnan with his 16-year background in police investigation.

“I had a job that I really loved, that I didn’t want to leave,” said Dagnan. “But it sounded so exciting to me, and it turned out to be great. This is an awesome job. I have more fun than anybody, I get to play with all of the toys, my classes aren’t just lecture; there’s a lot of hands-on experience. It’s very fun.”

According to Dagnan, Crime Scene Investigation is a very popular class choice. He teaches three blocks of CSI I and in the spring he teaches three blocks of CSI II. Each class can hold up to 50 students.

“We’ll go through and learn each thing step by step and piece by piece,” he said. “By the end of the semester I literally say ‘here’s the keys, you guys know how everything works.'”

Dagnan said teaching is what he loves and is proud of the mobile unit.

“This area doesn’t have anything like this. There’s people that come and drool over this van, and it’s an awesome deal that we have one. You’re not going to find many universities that have a crime scene unit as nice as this one.”