UIndy looking to turn vacant home into mock crime scene lab for students

INDIANAPOLIS , Ind. - Criminal justice students at the University of Indianapolis may soon get some hands-on experience that most colleges can't offer.

The university wants to turn a vacant home, the property is already owned by the school, into a site for mock crime scenes and other courses in the program.

The property, located on the western edge of campus on Bowman Ave., is currently zoned residential and needs changed to a university quarters, or UQ-1, status to make it happen.

“We are always trying to create new experiential hands-on learning experiences for our students," said Dr. Kevin Whiteacre, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice.

A spokesperson at the city's Department of Metropolitan Development said the property was approved for rezoning Thursday by a hearing examiner. She added the Metropolitan Development Commission, followed by the City-County Council, would still need to approve the rezoning to make the change official.

If rezoned, students would not only be able to dust for fingerprints, but they'd also find evidence in a realistic setting and be able to solve crimes.

Criminal justice students already get some experience when a classroom is converted into a crime scene, but it comes with limitations.

In the fall of 2018, the university is expanding its criminal justice program to include a division specifically targeted for students interested in becoming a crime scene investigator. Whiteacre said what the house will give professors countless scenarios.

“In order to do that well, you really need space, a realistic area, you can have crime scenes for students to practice on," he said.

University leaders have been in talks with nearby neighborhoods about what students would be doing in the home and on the property. In part, to warn them to not worry if they see an apparent crime scene there, and to make sure neighbors are okay with the plan.

“The community has offered letters of support saying that having a police presence down here and training the future police officers will be a terrific opportunity for our community to engage the city and to engage our school," said University of Indianapolis President Robert Manuel.

The house would also be made available to local forensic agencies.

Lab director Michael Medler at the Indianapolis-Marion County Forensic Services Agency said he's not aware of any university having its one training facility like the one the university wants to start.

“We don’t really have a house or location to go to where we can train our own people," said Medler. "So, we will have our the opportunity to train our own crime scene specialists.”

Medler said the location might be used once or twice a year by his department. It would also allow students to watch how a professional does the job, technologies used and ask questions.

If things go well with the rezoning, the university hopes to start holding mock crime scenes at the home come February of 2018. It would also host crime prevention classes.