WAILUKU - When Kanoelani Dodd applied to participate in the Maui Police Department's CSI Camp this summer, she wanted to become a homicide investigator.
After a week spent photographing mock crime scenes, analyzing bloodstain patterns and learning about other aspects of law enforcement work, the 17-year-old Lahainaluna High School graduate has refined her career plans.
"I'm pretty interested in polygraphing," said Dodd, who heads to the University of Alaska Southeast this month to pursue a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in preparation for a law enforcement career. "I have a better idea of what I want to do with my life."
Wendy Pias, a junior at Maui High School, examines blood spatter as part of a CSI Camp hosted by the Maui Police Department. Fellow Maui High junior Reshmi Rao is at left. Synthetic blood was used in the exercise at the Maui County forensic facility in Wailuku.
TONY EARLES photo
She was among 12 high school seniors and juniors selected for the camp, which was designed to give students hands-on experience in crime scene investigation and to introduce them to law enforcement-related fields.
"It was very successful," said Tony Earles, MPD evidence specialist who organized the week of activities for the camp, which was held in June. "We're going to take what we did this year, and we're going to build upon it.
"Hopefully, we can entice more to pursue fields within police-related careers."
Much of the camp was held at the Maui County forensic facility in Wailuku, where the students got experience in photographing and diagramming mock crime scenes, testing for blood, dusting for fingerprints, analyzing blood spatter and collecting evidence.
Earles hauled dirt from Upcountry that was used in casting footwear impressions, which can be used to help identify suspects at crime scenes.
"It's a very hands-on, practical thing," Earles said.
Students also toured the Wailuku Police Station and heard presentations by officials from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, University of Hawaii Maui College and Maui County prosecutor's office.
"We wanted them to learn it's all part of the puzzle," Earles said. "We wanted them to go away with the understanding there's all kinds of associated careers."
Earles said the department decided to offer the camp after receiving many inquiries about internship or training opportunities for students. Last year, three students participated in a mini-version of the camp. The group setting allows the students to interact with one another, as well as professionals, Earles said.
There was no cost to the students, with MPD absorbing the "minimal" costs for supplies, Earles said.
"We want to inspire our replacements, our next generations," Earles said. "Just because we're working in a field doesn't mean we have to stop teaching."
After the camp was publicized through high schools this year, many students called to ask about it. Seventeen ended up completing the application process, which required a recommendation from a teacher, parents' consent, a two-paragraph essay on why the student wanted to participate and a resume listing relevant courses. The participants - from Baldwin, Kamehameha Maui, Lahainaluna, King Kekaulike and Maui high schools - were selected after being interviewed by a panel that included Earles and Lt. Jayson Rego of the Criminal Investigation Division.
To prepare for the camp, the students completed six hours of free online training on crime investigation and evidence.
"We ended up with some very bright students that were sincerely interested," Earles said. "That was what was really neat about it."
For many of the students, interest in the field has been sparked by the popular "CSI" television shows. Through the camp, students learned that DNA may not be economical or necessary in most cases, but everyday skills of note-taking, photographing and fingerprinting are.
"There's reasons you have to follow procedure and make sure you are very meticulous," said Earles, who has worked as an MPD evidence specialist for 6 years. "Sometimes you will catch something that's really unique. You have to always be open to things. You have to always be open to changing your theories. We have to be careful and process as though we may have something later on."
He noted that many cold cases now being solved by DNA rely on evidence that was collected decades ago before the technology was being used. "Even then, we knew to package evidence dry, use gloves," he said.
When Earles earned his master's degree in forensic science in 1987, he said, investigators just did blood typing and DNA was only beginning to be applied in criminal investigations.
"I became a CSI before it was even cool to be one," he said.
To be certified as a CSI by one of the oldest professional organizations, he keeps up with new developments in the field and must take a test every five years.
Like MPD, most police departments use civilian employees such as Earles as crime scene investigators, he said. Unlike uniformed officers, civilians have not undergone police training; they don't carry firearms or have arrest powers.
"We're seen as unbiased. We present just the facts," he said. "It's our responsibility to do the job for bringing justice to the system.
"Our job is to bring the evidence, period. We don't get into who's guilty and who's not guilty."
At the camp, the students learned how work done by crime scene investigators at times can be used to corroborate or refute accounts of crimes.
Interpreting blood spatter from synthetic blood, the students calculated the angle of impact to determine the area of origin for the blood. Depending on what's found, that could, for example, back up or cast doubt on a suspect's account that he used a knife in self-defense while on the ground being attacked, Earles said.
He said latent fingerprinting, where fingerprints aren't readily visible and need to be detected, and bloodstain analysis were among the activities ranked highest by the students.
Makawao resident Devin Levesque said participating in the camp confirmed her interest in forensic science.
"I learned so much. I got hands-on experience," she said. "I'm going to see where it takes me. Now, it really makes me want to go into that field."
After graduating from King Kekaulike High School this year, the 18-year-old plans to attend UH-Maui College.
Crime scene investigation appeals to her, Levesque said, because "I like to solve things."
"It's a mystery you need to solve," she said.
"If anyone would have the slightest interest in working with the police or CSI division, they should definitely do this," she said. "You learn a lot."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.