CSI Portales? Forensic science added to ENMU majors

By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers

High-tech crime-solving science called forensics is a big part of TV crime dramas these days. But as the science as evolved over the last few years in the real world, the supply of forensic scientists hasn’t kept up with the demand.

It’s that demand that faculty and administration at Eastern New Mexico University hope will drive a new major of forensic science in the fall. They say the outlook for employment and earnings in the field is excellent.

Regents gave approval for the new four-year degree through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in April.

Kathy Durand, ENMU professor of anthropology who is overseeing the new program, said most of the courses for the degree were already being offered in the anthropology, biology, chemistry and criminal justice departments. It was just a matter of adding a course or two and pulling things together in a cohesive program.

“There’s a real shortage of this (forensic science training) in this state,” Durand said. “So much so that Gov. Richardson increased the budget for the state labs (for recruitment and pay increases).”

Durand, who has been with ENMU since 1993, said jurors see CSI or one of the other crime dramas on TV and expect to see forensic evidence being introduced. She said the reality is that the state crime lab is so backed up prosecutors often have to proceed without that evidence.

“Criminals are actually going free for lack of this type of training in our state,” Durand said.

ENMU received $120,000 in capital outlay funding from the Legislature this session to set up a forensics lab, according to an earlier PNT story. Durand says that money will be used to create a locked space where experiments and training can be done by students.

She said the department will be able to set up a crime scene as investigators might discover it and be able to give students a more hands-on learning environment.

Durand says unlike TV where a lab technician is seen doing everything, students will chose an area of specialty in either anthropology, chemistry or biology.

In addition to Durand in anthropology, Ken Craddock will be an advisor for biology and Juchao Yan will advise students specializing in chemistry.

“It’s sad, but there’s certainly a need for this type of work in our society,” Durand said. “It serves a need to put people in jail who belong there.”