State/University Partnership Means More Forensic Scientists, Hope for Crime Victims

A unique partnership turning is into reality this holiday weekend; a partnership between education and crime fighting.

Alabama State University and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences formally opened the newest academic building on campus today.

The lab building represents another big change for the school that originally produced teachers.

At the same time, it's a victory for crime victims.

The new building - Hatch Hall - is somewhat of a change for Alabama State. The school is turning to a more scientific focus.  The school remembers its history.

"Teacher education is a hallmark of this instituion and we're not moving away from that," said President Joe Lee.

But with the snip of scissors, the widow of former professor Robert Hatch helped open the way to training students in forensic sciences.

"We're going to go from the chemistry aspect," Lee said.

It's not just academic.

The building's second wing is where the state has placed its new forensics lab.

"All of the case work for Central Alabama, the state's work from Georgia to the Mississippi border, will be done in this building," said state Forensics Director Micahel Sparks.

That, in turn, will give university students the chance to see close up what they'll do if they continue down this career path.  They'll observe fully trained professionals when they use more complex machines.

The addition also means more scientists working on solving crimes.  At one time, because a backup in the lab, Alabama faced a four year backlog in prosecuting rape cases; two years for murder.

Sparks says no more.

"We have been decreasing our backlogs in the last 12 months by a considerable degree because of an increase in the general fund," he said.

The new addition and partnership between the school and the department also means students might have a chance to stay here as an employee.

Their chance may come with Sparks' department.

"Our plan next year is to hire four to five drug chemists," he said.

News President Lee days is music to his ears.

"We're always looking for chances to expand the opportunities for our students," he said.

The school expects to place ten to 15 students in its first classes in forensic chemistry, which doesn't sound like a lot, but administrators say this is just a start.

The plan to grow the program while taking advantage of the expertise the state lab can provide.

How detailed is it? The new building contains a mock courtroom so the fully trained scientists can show students how to provide testimony during a trial.

Alabama State officials say the new forensic sciences program at the school is a first of its kind at a historically black college or university. It's the only one they know of that partners with the state to teach and provide lab service.