Go behind the scenes with Houston's elite CSI Academy

Newest crop of city's CSI technicians won't be police officers

HOUSTON - It's forbidden territory for most people, but now, KPRC 2 News is going behind the crime scene tape for a look at what goes on minutes after police show up to investigate a crime.

In the middle of a busy neighborhood near downtown Houston, an unassuming brick house has something unique going on inside. Complete with a dead mannequin in a pool of fake blood, there is an entire crime scene set up inside the home. It's the site of the first-ever Crime Scene Investigation Training Academy with the Houston Forensic Science Center.

The newest crop of Houston's CSI technicians won't be police.

"When we originally assumed the crime scene unit from (the Houston Police Department), it was all classified, uniformed officers," said Dr. Peter Stout, president and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center. "It was by design at the outset that those officers would trickle out of the system and we would replace (them) with civilians."

The new CSI Training Academy has gotten a lot of attention, with hundreds of people wanting to be a part of it.

"Let me give you a real good example: In the first 24 hours, we had close to 400 applicants," said Jerry Pena, director of Crime Scene Investigations.

In all, just 13 people, nine women and four men, were chosen for this elite job.

"I left active duty military to finish a degree in chemistry," CSI Academy student Jake Lambuth said. "I worked as an Army medic. CSI is the ultimate combination of both -- investigative and natural sciences. It requires the best of both to eventually come to."

"I did a year with the Lubbock Police Department and the crime scene unit there," CSI Academy student Breanna Turner said.

"They are getting a complete course on crime scene investigation," Pena said. "Everything from chain of custody to physical evidence handling procedures, processing the physical evidence, trace evidence, photography, videography, casting, footwear impression and firearms handling -- it's a wide variety of skills they are going to be obtaining from this class."

"When taking photos, you want to encompass the entire scene," Turner said. "If it goes to court, you want the people who are viewing it to feel like they are actually in the scene."

Added Pena, "It all starts at the crime scene. The better job we do at processing physical evidence, the better process it is throughout the lab."

Stout said since 2014, when the Houston Forensics Science Center took over crime lab operations, there were about 12,000 backlogged requests for evidence processing. Now, there are about 3,000. This training academy is part of the move forward from past problems with the HPD crime lab.

"This is part of what the city did that really is very unique in the country of taking the extraordinary step of trying to manage the crime laboratory in a different way," Stout said.

A crime scene investigator will come out of the academy making about $47,000 a year. The Houston Forensic Science Center hasn't set a date for the next academy class, but it often offers classes related to other areas of forensics.

Currently, the center is enrolling for a 36-hour course to learn latent print comparison. Students will learn to use the analysis, comparison, evaluation and verification (ACE-V) methodology to do latent print comparison. For more information, visit this website.

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