RICHARD LAUTENS/torstar news service


Student investigators Katherine Bygarski, 20, left, and Bonnie Caruana, 20, use garden spades and dig gently into the soil of a potential gravesite.


The work is more laborious, the clothes less glamorous and it takes a much larger team to solve a crime.

Those are the main differences between Hollywood’s version of forensic science as portrayed in the hit television series CSI and real life, according to those studying the discipline at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

But students at the Oshawa school now have their own set on which to play make-believe — a crime scene house.

Dubbed the first of its kind in Ontario, the old forest rangers’ cabin has been turned into a living laboratory that offers a series of distinct crime scenes in which they investigate murder, break-and-enter, a shooting and other scenarios encountered by forensic investigators.

“It gives us a practical, hands-on approach,” said Jillian McKay, 19, of Pickering, a second-year student in UOIT’s bachelor of science (honours) in forensic sciences. “We’re able to take what we learn in the classroom and apply it.”

The house, located a short distance from campus, is used to teach students how to properly collect evidence from crime scenes, including DNA, fingerprints, footwear impressions, blood spatters and tool marks from forced entries. Each room is equipped with a video camera to allow professors to monitor and review the techniques of students, including the possible contamination of evidence.

“This crime scene house is technology at the service of our students, bringing them to another level of education and training so they can do things no one else can when they graduate,” Richard Marceau, the university’s provost, said.

It’s only once they’re in the field that most officers learn proper evidence-gathering techniques, said Insp. David Kimmerly of the Durham Regional Police Service’s major crimes unit. “So it’s crucial to give them a head start. Having this house does that.”

Dr. Ray Prime, director of the Ontario Centre for Forensic Sciences, said the house offers great insights, regardless whether graduates become police officers or other types of investigators.

“For the student who aspires to be a laboratory analyst, exposure to a real-life scenario can serve as a reality check to demonstrate that practice in a pristine laboratory is not the real world of a field investigator,” Prime said.

One of the quickest lessons students learn is this is not a CSI set.

“It’s a lot different in real life,” said Amy Peneder, 19, a second-year student from Oshawa: They must wear big, white bunny suits at crime scenes, it takes hours to do work that takes minutes on television, and many more people are involved in collecting, processing and analyzing evidence.

“It’s not as glamorous as it looks on TV.”