URI establishes Forensic Science Partnership

to become leader in scientific criminal investigation KINGSTON, R.I. — July 19, 1999–Whether investigating evidence from an explosion, analyzing historic firearms evidence from the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, or testing clothing samples from a shooting in Providence, the University of Rhode Island provides some of the best scientific minds for the fight against crime. Now the University has decided to build on that expertise by establishing the Forensic Science Partnership, a collaboration of the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory, which is based at URI’s College of Pharmacy, the other colleges at URI, the state Department of Health, the state’s law enforcement community, and the insurance industry. The Forensic Science Partnership is one of three announced recently by URI President Robert L. Carothers and Provost M. Beverly Swan following a competitive review process. The President’s Partnership Program was established four years ago to increase interdisciplinary research efforts in areas critical to societal needs. The success of the program enters a new stage with this announcement of a second round of partnership awards. The first round produced increased research funding to the University, major contributions to external community partners, and a new level of undergraduate student research projects. The URI Council for Research recommended funding for the three new partnerships out of a field of 12 proposals. In this, the first year, the Forensic Science Partnership is receiving $150,000. If it meets its first-year goals, it will be considered for additional funding in future years. The money will fund course development, faculty seminars, and research projects that will create a regional center of excellence to assist law enforcement agencies. The creation of courses could become the foundation of a master’s program in forensic science; no public university in New England offers such a program. Dennis Hilliard, director of the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory, said the partnership addresses the increasing demand by college-age students for forensic science programs. “Ever since the O.J. Simpson and Jon Benet Ramsey cases, and our own lab’s work on the Martin Luther King Jr. case, there has been burgeoning interest in the forensic sciences,” Hilliard remarked. Hilliard, who is also assistant adjunct professor of biomedical sciences at URI, is part of a three-member partnership leadership team that also includes Jimmie C. Oxley, associate professor of chemistry, and a nationally renowned expert on energetic materials, including explosives, and propellants, and Everett E. Crisman, assistant professor of chemical engineering. The partnership draws on faculty from URI’s Colleges of Engineering, Human Science and Services, Arts and Sciences, Pharmacy, and the Graduate School of Oceanography. “The partnership will help us solidify the connections the Crime Lab has made over the years at URI,” said Hilliard, who holds his master’s degree from URI. “We are a very small laboratory, but we have been able to thrive because of our connections within the University. Asked to name a few of those beneficial collaborations, Hilliard said when he needed help analyzing clothing evidence taken from a winter shooting in Providence, he called on Martin Bide, URI professor of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design. When he needed help analyzing an organic compound, he called on URI Chemistry Professor Chris Brown, and when he needed to test the effects of alcohol on the human body, he called on URI Psychology Professor Nelson Smith. “The first priority is to teach the faculty how their expertise relates to forensic science measurements,” Professor Crisman said. “A big part of the program will be talking to faculty so they can see, that ‘oh yes, I can do that.’ We have an opportunity here to be one of the leading centers in both forensic education and research.” The partnership projects will be divided into four major focus groups: evidence recovery, trace analysis, forensic biology, and drug and alcohol analysis. Professor Oxley said the goal is to run a high quality program that will result in URI students getting hired by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and state crime labs. Based on what’s already happened and is happening at URI, the partnership has great potential for national exposure. Professor Oxley is organizing a course for 800 Iowa law enforcement and school officials on how to handle school bomb threats in the wake of the incident in Columbine, Col. The course is scheduled for Aug. 11 and 12. The partnership will start recruiting students for research projects this year and a brochure will also be developed to enhance law enforcement community awareness of the partnership and to alert other interested parties of the partnership’s existence. In the second year, the partnership will create the courses in forensic science and continue the undergraduate projects. In the third year, the courses will be implemented within a college or academic department of URI and students and faculty will present their research projects. XXX For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116