BOWLING GREEN — A new building at Bowling Green State University will offer a cutting-edge forensic crime laboratory.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is to attend a groundbreaking Wednesday for an $11.9 million Bureau of Criminal Investigation office to be built at the corner of North College Drive and Leroy Avenue on university property.
The new BCI lab, expected to open by fall 2014, will replace rented space on East Wooster Street in Bowling Green and expand the facility’s size from about 18,000 square feet to roughly 30,000, Mr. DeWine said.
The project comes as the university makes changes to its criminal justice academic offerings.
This fall, BGSU launches degree specializations in forensic chemistry, forensic biology, and forensic investigations.
Mr. DeWine and university officials view the new lab as an opportunity for the attorney general’s office and BGSU to partner and better each other’s efforts.
“We hope that in the future Bowling Green and BCI will work on more long-term forensic research,” said Mr. DeWine. “We want this to be a part of not only the campus but also the community.”
BCI runs labs in Richfield and London, in addition to the Bowling Green site that serves 22 northwest Ohio counties.
The present Bowling Green site, located in a converted grocery store in a strip mall, opened in 1996 and employs 36 people.
The lab provides firearms and latent fingerprint examination, biology and chemistry services, trace analysis, and polygraph exams.
It also houses BCI investigative units that specialize in crime scenes, crimes against children, criminal intelligence, narcotics, and special investigations.
The number of cases handled by the Bowling Green office increased from 2,257 in 1997, its first full year of operation, to 5,266 cases last year, according to the attorney general’s office.
Mr. DeWine said the current lab is “out of space” and “too small already.”
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An on-campus building, funded through a state capital budget allocation to his office, creates “great synergy.”
“We want this to be an open facility and with a lot of windows,” he said, adding the idea is to give students and passers-by a sense of the scientific work happening inside.
Students could have a chance to hold internships at the new lab, he said.
The BGSU criminal justice program enrolls about 400 undergraduates and 25 to 30 master’s degree students. The university developed academic specializations in forensic chemistry, biology, and investigations to give students added insight into forensic science and the legal issues surrounding it, said Steven Lab, professor of criminal justice and chairman of the department of human services.
Mr. Lab said an undergraduate degree in criminal justice doesn’t prepare a student to work in a forensic crime lab, though it does teach students how to properly collect crime scene evidence. Students who want to work in a lab need undergraduate degrees in chemistry or biology, and they now will be able to take courses from the criminal justice program to round out their education. A chemistry major, for example, will be able to specialize in forensic chemistry, Mr. Lab said.
The university also is in the process of developing a master’s of science in forensic science degree.
“All of this is happening because we are going to have the laboratories here,” Mr. Lab said.
He envisions more chances for students to have contact with the lab and observe and learn from its scientists. He said many students have an incomplete idea of what it is to work in the field because of popular crime shows that roll numerous jobs into one character. An on-campus facility exposes students to real-life lab conditions. Lab workers could serve as guest lecturers in university classes, and BGSU could offer professional development, such as training on specific techniques, to lab employees.
“It opens up a tremendous number of doors. Obviously, anytime you are physically close, the abilities to collaborate on a lot of different things are greatly enhanced,” Mr. Lab said.
Area police departments that utilize the lab’s services also are looking forward to the new facility. BCI helps the Bowling Green Police Division process crime scenes such as burglaries and are assisting with a death investigation, Chief Brad Conner said. The division works with BCI polygraph experts as well. Chief Conner predicts benefits from the university and BCI working more closely in a “state of the art” lab.
Oregon Police Chief Mike Navarre uses the Bowling Green facility for lab services and supports the move to a site that fits its needs better than the current location.
“They’ve outgrown it, and there’s certainly a need for modern equipment, modern technology, and more space. And I’m a firm believer that the future of law enforcement is in science and technology,” he said.
Contact Vanessa McCray at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.