When detectives Larry Simpkiss and Jennifer King show up at the scene of a crime, they don’t wear their sunglasses inside or deliver smooth one-liners to sum up the case.


When detectives Larry Simpkiss and Jennifer King show up at the scene of a crime, they don’t wear their sunglasses inside or deliver smooth one-liners to sum up the case.

For these Dover Police Department crime scene investigators, it’s science and detail, not Hollywood drama and dialogue.

And now, Simpkiss and King are better trained for their jobs than ever before, having recently completed an intense program at the world-renowned National Forensic Academy at the University of Tennessee.

The Post sat down with these two specialized professionals to talk about their jobs and experiences in the training program.

 

Q What is the National Forensic Academy and what does the program entail?

A Simpkiss: It’s all aspects of crime scene investigation. It’s a 400-hour course, with 170 hours in the classroom, and 230 hours field work.

King: It’s over the course of 10 weeks. Top experts in their fields were some of our instructors, we have top notch training, up to date, all the new stuff.

Simpkiss: It’s cutting edge and the best thing is, it’s hands on. You’re not being just told how to do it, you have to do it. It’s a pass-no pass class. They take it very seriously; you do everything from fingerprints to bloodstain pattern analysis, anthropology, entomology.

 

Q One of the key components of the training program is the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Research facility, also known as the “body farm.” What kind of things did you learn there?

A King: It was a pretty interesting experience. We spent three days at the actual facility; it’s about an acre of partly wooded area.

They do a lot of different research for law enforcement and all types of things. As far as what we did, we were tasked with finding a clandestine grave and we learned all the different techniques to do that. Once you locate the grave you basically bring up the human remains.

Simpkiss: These are all bodies that have been donated to science. They teach so much there. The anthropology department at the University of Tennessee, they have boxes and boxes of skeletal remains and the neat thing I found about it is if we ever found skeletal remains, there’s so much you an learn about them just by looking at the skull and the long bones — race, sex, approximate age. That I thought was fascinating.

King: The other real interesting thing is that you learn pattern injuries and things like that. You learn entrance wounds versus exit wounds, burned bones.

 

Q What other aspects of the training program did you find most interesting?

A Simpkiss: Entomology. It’s probably the most sickening part. The smells from a decomposing body, it’s very unforgettable. But just the life cycle of a blowfly teaches us so much about time since death. They teach you how to collect the blowflies — the living ones, the maggots that are on the body or are leaving the body.

King: At a certain period the larvae are in different stages. You try to collect from every life cycle so you can better determine the time since death.

 

Q Dover doesn’t deal with a lot of murders. How are the skills you’ve learned applicable in your everyday crime scene investigations?

A Simpkiss: Everything we learned there just culminates together. Photography was a huge thing — how to photograph, document crime scenes. I thought I knew photography until they taught us.

King: You’re now using different chemicals, different techniques to raise those [fingerprints] and preserve them, then photograph them with digital photography. It becomes so much clearer and you can bring it to a latent [print] examiner. Gone are the days when you’re bringing up a dusty old piece of something. You’re bringing digital photos and it becomes so much better to examine.

 

Q Do these skills and techniques speed up investigations?

A Simpkiss: It’s not about speeding it along. It’s about doing a more thorough job at a crime scene. Now we have more knowledge and more tools to do a complete job. Now, once we complete a crime scene investigation, I don’t think we’ve missed anything. We actually now slow down a little, but more to make sure everything is done correctly and is done the same way every time.

This is great for us, because we get to deal just with the evidence part. The investigators can worry about the investigation part. We used to do that all at once. It was overwhelming.

King: That is our focus, it’s a wonderful thing. You can take your time. Things were getting done the right way before, but we’ve obviously come to a point in society where you see so much on television. It becomes the expected norm. Until very recently we didn’t have those tools, the department saw a need for that.

 

Q Shows on TV like “CSI” have brought the kind of work you do into everyone’s living rooms. Has the attention been good or bad for your profession?

A Simpkiss: It’s discussed a lot at the National Forensic Academy: the “CSI effect.” A lot of jurors expect to see these kinds of tools and procedures brought to the stand, and they expect results.

What they do on TV, the science is correct, the timeline is off. What takes an hour for them could take months or years for us.

King: You don’t push a button and feed it in through this computer looking thing and the results come out the other end with a full work up and all this; it never happens like that. It has its pros and cons, at least we can say we’re trained and we’re at the top.

 

Q What does the fact that you have this training mean for the citizens of Dover?

A Simpkiss: There is no other course in the world this intense. I like to think we’re the most trained officers in the state.

King: In my particular case, we had people from Florida, Texas, Seattle — from all over. They send investigators from Australia over there. It’s well known that when you come out of there you have the top training.

Simpkiss: I kind of wish every detective could go to this class. It just teaches you a tremendous amount.

King: It gives you confidence to go into a scene and know that you know what you’re doing and there’s no question about what’s going to be done and what you need to do.

 

About the detectives

Det. Larry Simpkiss
Age: 46
Hometowns: Wilmington and Plantation, Fla.
Law enforcement career: Seven years as a police officer in Florida, 15-year veteran of the Dover Police Department

Det. Jennifer King
Age: 33
Hometown: Hartly
Law enforcement career: Seven years with the Dover Police Department, served as a military police officer with the U.S. Air Force Reserve, worked summer beach patrol shifts in Ocean City, Md.

Email Doug Denison at doug.denison@doverpost.com