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Kim Francis Engel
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010

Exploding vehicles to challenge IUPUI crime-scene investigation students

Note: News media who want to be on hand for the explosions on Friday (Aug. 6) should arrive between 8:30 and 9 a.m. at the Indianapolis Power & Light Co. facility. The gated entrance is at 3700 S. Harding St. in Indianapolis, approximately 1 mile north of I-465. A guard will admit media personnel.

Aug. 5, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- Students who signed up for a class this summer at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI can count on having a blast. Literally. The class, "Investigating Post-blast Crime Scenes," provides real-world experience in investigating explosions.

Instructors for the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis course will blow up three cars this Friday (Aug. 6). Then students will reassemble the evidence and present their conclusions on what caused the explosions.

Car Blast

A participant in last year's class collects evidence after a blast.

"The objective is to teach students how to do an investigation," said instructor Steve Davis. "In this case, they're working a crime scene -- they're collecting evidence, taking photographs, bagging the evidence and analyzing it."

Davis, a sergeant with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, created the one-credit summer class two years ago for the SPEA Criminal Justice program at IUPUI. Students spend one full day in the classroom, learning the principles of post-blast investigations. Then they have an opportunity to apply what they learned.

The class is designed for students to:

  • Learn methods for determining the origin and cause of blasts
  • Learn techniques used by bomb squad technicians to identify and collect evidence for forensic analysis
  • Get hands-on experience in field analysis after a real-life detonation

Friday morning, Davis will work with fellow instructor Bob Brown and with Ron Humbert, commander of the IMPD bomb squad, to place the three vehicles on Indianapolis Power & Light Co. property at 3700 S. Harding St. and to rig them with VBIEDs -- vehicle borne improvised explosive devices. The cars will go boom at around 9:30 a.m. Fire departments, bomb squad members and other public safety personnel will be on hand to secure the scene.

The 24 students in the class, divided in three teams, will sift through the resulting craters, flagging and bagging evidence and applying what they have learned to try to determine the origin and cause of each blast. They will enter their findings on laptop computers and deliver a PowerPoint presentation of their conclusions Friday afternoon in an on-site classroom made available by Indianapolis Power & Light.

"It's a crime scene investigation," Davis said, "but in this case it's a very complex crime scene, where the evidence changes. Sometimes it burns up and you don't get the evidence you would hope to have in order to make a determination."