FVTC president responds to controversy over body farm

April 23, 2014

From postcrescent.com: “FVTC President Dr. Susan May: It’s time to put ‘body farm’ to rest” — You may have seen the flurry of media recently regarding a forensic training field at our Public Safety Training Center. The concept of an outdoor forensic training field may make for a tempting headline, but it is far from being anything final.

I’m sure you may be wondering about this development, so I’ll attempt to provide some clarification about this proposed aspect of the overall facility.

First, the concept of an all-season forensic training field has been included from the very beginning through all planning and referendum communication phases of this center. The very first rough drawings of this facility included this potential outdoor lab, as did early conversations with community leaders in 2009. As the project progressed, we often addressed questions about it, but this part of the center wasn’t highlighted because it’s by no means the primary focus of this new facility. From the beginning, it was considered a longer-range project for possible development in the future.

Right now, the forensic training field is only a concept, an idea, a possibility for further consideration. We are nowhere near actual implementation. Before any action is taken, we would need to address regulatory requirements, reporting standards and operational processes, let alone the research and development our staff would need to undertake. We have many more critical priorities than this, both in getting the PSTC up and running and across the college overall. Ultimately, we may determine that it simply isn’t worth pursuing if the regulations are prohibitive and/or costly.

Looking back, it’s important to remember that public hearings were held to provide information and answer any questions on all of our referendum projects, which were widely supported by the public in 2012. FVTC delivered more than 125 community presentations, our web site included detailed information on the projects, and communications were sent to municipalities, planning commissions, the state Department of Natural Resources, and many other agencies. We sent letters to the adjacent property owners to inform them about the PSTC and invited them to contact us with any questions or concerns.

We were also required to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment for the PSTC development. In that report, the forensic training field was specifically referenced in terms of secured access, visual appearance and odors. This was made available for public review and feedback, and a public hearing was held specifically on this report. The final document has been posted on our website since it was published in September 2012.

Our local media sources have really gotten ahead of themselves on this one; perhaps some of our own exuberant and well-meaning staff has as well. I find it very interesting that all of this media attention has generated a number of inquiries from people about donating their bodies for this type of research, as well as contacts from several universities worldwide interested in working with us at this facility. They, too, are perhaps getting ahead of themselves.

Is there merit to the idea of creating the nation’s first all-season forensic training field to support forensics education, training and research? Absolutely. But, as I’ve tried to convey, there’s a lot more homework to be done. And if this moves forward at some point, it will need to be done with respect for process, laws and regulations, neighbors and communications that are appropriate and timely.

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