nvestigating a real crime scene barely resembles its TV counterpart.
On TV, crime scene investigators put the evidence in clear plastic bags. In reality, evidence is collected in paper bags to prevent contamination. DNA results don’t come back in minutes, it takes months.
“There are so many myths that people are learning on TV and that term has been named the ‘CSI’ effect. The critical element of that is that all citizens are jury members, and so we want to undo those myths,” said Janine Vaccarello, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment’s chief operating officer. “It’s not the click of a button and they have their answer, these things take time.”
To correct some of these misconceptions, the Crime Museum in the District offers a variety of forensic workshops. Four new classes are being added to the list: forensic anthropology, forensic pathology, arson and fact vs. fiction.
“All these forensic science TV shows are leading people believe that they are experts in forensic science,” Letitiah Etheridge, the forensic science educator and youth director at the museum, said.
The new classes last 45 minutes to an hour and teach visitors about the techniques used by professionals in each field, which journalists sampled during a preview Thursday.
In the forensic anthropology class, visitors will explore methods of analyzing skeletal remains by examining bones. The forensic pathology course turns visitors into medical examiners in simulated autopsies.
Journalists peered at preserved fetal pigs while Etheridge pointed out how to tell the difference between a stab wound and a bullet wound. In the fact vs. fiction class, participants took a quiz on proper crime scene examination. One of the questions was the paper v. plastic choice for bagging evidence.
Allie Baker, an intern at Brotman-Winter-Fried, which does public relations for the museum, was at the preview.
“I thought they were very interesting. I’ve always had an interest in forensics and watched all those TV shows,” Baker said. “So learning what was fact and what was fiction was definitely an exciting and interesting part for me.”
The museum, which celebrated its four-year anniversary in May, started offering workshops a year after it opened, Vaccarello said.
She said the museum found the workshops get visitors involved in science.
“One of the things we realized was this field growing so much. Science teachers can finally incorporate science into the classroom with having students very enthused about it,” Vaccarello said. “But then they themselves don’t have the baseline knowledge of forensics since it is a newer field.”
That’s where the museum can step in with instructors such as Etheridge, who has a master’s degree in forensic sciences from George Washington University.
“It’s amazing. I get to do what I love, and I get to teach it, which is something I definitely do enjoy,” Etheridge said.
Vaccarello said the museum’s workshops are unique.
“Unless you are a law enforcer, you aren’t going to get this experience anywhere else,” Vaccarello said.
The workshops are a separate cost from the admission. Vaccarello suggested that visitors order tickets online ahead of time for a workshop they want to attend as the classes can fill up.
The museum also offers a summer camp, for $80 to $435. The new workshops first start at a day camp June 27, followed by the first opening to the public June 29.