WOODLAND PARK, NJ — Boys from Cub Scout Pack 31 were recently given a lesson in forensics by local experts to aid in solving a mock crime. The event, which adhered to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, was held in the courtyard of the American Legion, located at 410 Mount Pleasant Ave., on Aug.10. 

Lt. Erik Luker and Det. Daniel Schaefer of the Woodland Park Police Department gave the presentation, along with Det. Matthew Lasala and Det. Christopher Cardenas of the CSI Unit of the Passaic County Sheriff's Office. The scouts and their parents received information about the process police use when it comes to forensic science in criminal investigations.

Luker discussed at length the different methods that can assist detectives in identifying suspects and solving crimes. The scouts took part in a hands-on demonstration on how to inspect a mock crime scene by dusting for fingerprints. They also learned about the different types of evidence to look out for in a crime scene and how DNA can be used in a crime lab.

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Lasala then spoke of the three kinds of fingerprint patterns — loops, swirls and archers.

"Each finger has a different pattern and is unique," he said.

According to Luker, a nationwide police database stores the fingerprints of anyone who has ever been arrested, and are kept as a log to match and compare them to other fingerprints for identification purposes. The goal is to search a suspect's prior criminal history, where he or she may have been involved in other retroactive criminal activities with prior arrests.

"The Sheriff's Department uses this special tape to pull the fingerprint off a surface, such as glass after it's been dusted," he explained. "We can take that, put it in the computer, and compare it to all the other fingerprints that we have in the database to see if it matches. We now have a record of it."

Detectives also explained how important DNA is when it comes to solving a crime, comparing it to the coding found in computers and cell phones.

"DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. All these little acids are super special and run on code in people, so DNA is like code for people," Luker explained, adding examples of DNA found in human saliva, hair and blood samples, which are typically used as evidence.

Detectives also said that bombs made by criminals, which contain different chemicals, are also collected by detectives to analyze shrapnel after an explosion, including other fragments for evidence.

Luker explained that detectives from both the CSI unit and local police often work collaboratively to help solve a crime. 

"It's all about solving a puzzle," Luker noted. "We work together and they are our partner in making sure that people who commit a crime are prosecuted and go before a judge and a jury."

The event helped the scouts work towards earning their forensics badge.