New State Law To Benefit Baylor Program, Law Enforcement

Aug. 25, 2005

by Julie Carlson (254) 710-6681

A new Texas state law that goes into effect Sept. 1 will benefit both a Baylor University academic program and Texas law enforcement agencies. The Texas House and Senate passed legislation (SB 995, HB 2180) allowing Baylor's forensic science program to establish a decomposition facility to provide reliable data to state law enforcement for crime scene investigations. Gov. Rick Perry signed the measure into law in June.

"The old law stated that only medical and dental schools could accept donated bodies thus no university could ever teach gross anatomy with human cadavers. The new law states that universities, public or private, that have a forensic science program can accept donated bodies for research," said Dr. Susan Wallace, director of Baylor's forensic science program.

Wallace said she is exploring ways to have a decomposition facility that would allow the program to gather data on rates of decomposition in Central Texas.

"This would greatly enhance determining time since death and aid law enforcement in finding the perpetrators," she said. "It will also allow us to give seminar classes to our law enforcement agencies.

"There are of course many regulations and hurdles that have to be met but at least we now have the law changed to begin to work toward our goals," she added.

The closest such decomposition facility is located at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and the data produced is not necessarily reliable in the different climatic and terrain conditions of Texas. In addition, state law enforcement officials often do not have the budget to travel to out-of-state training seminars, and experts from the facility in Tennessee are usually not available to assist with investigations in Texas.

Baylor's decomposition facility would help resolve both problems, offering a nearby training site to state law enforcement personnel and further developing a network of forensic anthropologists available to assist these investigators. The Waco Police Department, the Texas Rangers (Company "F"), and the Texas Department of the Public Safety have been supportive of this effort, Wallace said.

Baylor's forensic science major, which began in 1999, is the only forensic science undergraduate major offered in Texas and is one of the fastest growing majors at the university, with more than 200 students in the program and another 200 who are pre-forensic science majors.

Wallace earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at the University of Texas. She has consulted for numerous law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Rangers and FBI, on the recovery and identification of human remains. She received a master's certificate in death investigation at St. Louis Medical School and studied forensic photography at the Dade County Medical Examiner Department and is a fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Science and a member of the American College of Forensic Examiners.

Her research has been published in Journal of Forensic Science, and she has lectured at the Canada Association of Physical Anthropologists, the American Academy of Forensic Science and at a seminar for Texas Rangers. In 1999, she received a certificate of honor from then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush for her work in forensic anthropology and the aid she has provided in crime investigations.

For more information, contact Wallace at (254) 752-9284.

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