Not everyone is cut out to be a crime scene investigator. In this episode, AMU criminal justice and forensic science professor Dr. Dena Weiss reflects on her 24-year career as a CSI. Learn about the incredible advancements in technology like Touch DNA and genealogy genetic testing, which her department used to solve a 38-year cold case. Dr. Weiss also offers insight into the fragility of crime scenes to help responding officers preserve as much evidence as possible, recommendations for educational pursuits and internships for aspiring CSIs, and insight into managing the stress of a career as a CSI.
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Leischen Kranick: Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Leischen Kranick. Today, we’re going to be talking about what it’s like to be a crime scene investigator and some of the incredible advancements in forensic science technology.
Today, my guest is Dr. Dena Weiss, who recently retired after a 24-year career as a crime scene investigator and fingerprint examiner in a central Florida police department. As part of her career experience, she worked as a serologist and she has testified as an expert in more than 200 federal and circuit court cases throughout Florida. Dr. Weiss is also an associate professor at American Military University teaching courses in criminal justice and forensic science.
Dena, welcome to the podcast and thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Dena Weiss: Thank you for having me.
Leischen Kranick: So I want to start out by just congratulating you on your recent retirement after 24 years. How does it feel to be officially retired?
Dr. Dena Weiss: Well, honestly, I miss the challenge of examining fingerprints and solving cases. But I have a lot less stress in my life now and I can now go for a walk three times a week, I can enjoy the Florida sunshine, I’m not testifying in court with very short notice, so I’m enjoying it.
Leischen Kranick: Good. I’m so glad to hear that. It’s well deserved. So I was hoping that we could start our conversation by just giving our listeners a little bit of a background of how you got interested in forensic science and how you eventually became a crime scene investigator. Can you just talk about your background?
Dr. Dena Weiss: Sure. I first became interested in forensics when I attended a forensic seminar in college. I hate to age myself, but I went to a very small all-girls school in Virginia and I initially was going to be a chemistry major with the intent of doing research. This was in the early 1980s and I had never ever heard of forensics, so when they announced the seminar, I was like, “Oh, let me go see what this is,” and I was just amazed.
The field seemed much more exciting to me than chemistry research, so I went ahead and got my four-year degree in chemistry and then I pursued a forensic science Master’s degree after college which was one of the first programs developed in Richmond, Virginia.
Then after graduate school, I was hired by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a crime analyst. FDLE is our state lab system, and for them, I worked in the micro-analysis section conducting hair and fractured material examinations and then moved on to the serology section. This discipline involves the examination of body fluids such as blood, semen, saliva, and involves DNA analysis.
So I worked at FDLE for five years, but the whole time I was there, I felt like it was missing something. I was in a lab coat every day in a sterile environment, I was conducting forensic examinations like I had trained to do in school, but I wasn’t getting the whole picture. I just had a stack of files, 100+, every day that I walked into, and all they were case summaries. I never had a conversation with a detective, I didn’t have any crime scene pictures. It was pretty much like research, like I was trying not to do when I got my degree.
So I wanted to respond to crime scenes and put two and two together, I wanted to collect evidence and attend autopsies, and interact with people, the medical examiner, the detectives. I was also commuting an hour to work one way every day and had two little ones, so it was cramping my style a little bit, my 12, 14-hour days.
So I started a relationship with some of the people at our local police department in their crime lab and they were excited to have me when they had an opening, and before long they did, so I started working at the local police department.
Then at this job, I got to work crime scenes and it was everything and more that I imagined it would be. It was just so exciting, never a dull moment, not the same thing every day, and I fell in love with processing the crime scenes for latent prints. I kind of had a knack for it. I was pretty good at it. So eventually I became a latent print examiner as well, which I have done for 20 years.
Leischen Kranick: Excellent. So it’s very cool to hear how you have obviously a very strong background in science and then how you were able to really apply that to the career in helping law enforcement agencies essentially solve all these crimes using technology and processing their evidence.
I was wondering, obviously technology is a huge piece of that, can you talk a little bit about what I can only assume is a major advancement in technology from when you first started out? Even with fingerprint analysis, I imagine that has advanced just incredibly during your career.
Dr. Dena Weiss: Yes. We now have the automated fingerprint identification system. That’s actually been around for quite a few years, but when somebody is arrested, their fingerprints are automatically collected and put into the system.
And when we develop a fingerprint at a crime scene, if it has enough individual characteristics and it’s not distorted or smeared, we can take that print and photograph it and enter it into the system, and mark its individualizing features and ask the system to give us, say, the closest 10 to 15 candidates in the database that may match it.
It comes up with a candidate list, and then as a fingerprint examiner goes through all of those candidates and compares the known fingerprints in the system to the crime scene fingerprint and I try and make an identification.
There’s actually two systems. There’s IAFIS, which is the national database, and then there’s AFIS which is just statewide. AFIS is where we make the most fingerprint identification hits because most criminals stay local and that’s the local database. So I have a lot of experience with that.
The database has advanced to including palm prints now. Palm prints are huge contributor to crime scenes. We are always collecting palm prints on cars and windows.
Besides fingerprints, of course DNA has something new every few years it seems like. Probably the transition from private genealogy companies to FDLE, the state crime lab developing their own genetic genealogy program has been a huge advancement.
The genealogy team works with Parabon NanoLabs and this just takes DNA testing a step further than what we’ve had in the past. The Combined DNA Index System, CODIS, is our national DNA database. We have a fingerprint database, CODIS is our DNA database.
And we can take samples from crime scenes and enter the DNA sample whether it be a sample of blood, a sample of semen, we can enter it into this database, and if the suspect has been arrested and has a profile in the DNA database CODIS, a match will occur.
So that’s what we’ve done in the past, though with this genealogy team and Parabon, we now can run our DNA profile—if it does not come back with a match—we can run this profile through genetic genealogy testing and can determine the gender and also lead investigators to relatives of the offender.
Leischen Kranick: Genetic genealogy really became well known to the public anyway through the Golden State Killer case and using genealogy to track down the relatives of the suspect or the murderer. I was wondering, Dena, is that something that’s just become very accessible now to CSIs? Like it’s something that is done with basically on every case or is it only on the ones that there’s not more information available?
Dr. Dena Weiss: It has some criteria. It’s only used when it’s the last resort, where all the evidence has been examined, it did not make a CODIS hit, and then we go this route. There’s been a lot of questions about reliability, qualitative analysis, what the protocols are in these private labs, which is what makes it such a unique opportunity for the Florida State Crime Lab because they’re working hand in hand with Parabon NanoLabs. So they’re following the lab’s protocol and everything is done in their laboratory system. So you’re not going to have as many questions in court about whether protocol was followed and whether the testing equipment is quantified and tested for contamination routinely.
There’s a lot of criteria that has to be met in a crime laboratory. They ask you oftentimes about this during a criminal trial. So it’s a great program.
In fact, just before I retired, we actually solved a case using Parabon that I had been working on with detectives for 20 years. It was a homicide from 1981 and I had compared fingerprints from this case, hundreds of them for years. For years, anybody that lived in the neighborhood, anybody the family knew, we compared fingerprints, just hundreds of people.
We sent the DNA profile from the sexual battery kit to CODIS, and made no hit. Well, when we started working with Parabon, we came back with a hit on the sexual battery kit and solved the case. And it ended up the suspect, of course, had never committed any crimes in his entire life besides this one and he did it when he was 20 years old and he was one of the boys’ football coaches.
Leischen Kranick: Wow!
Dr. Dena Weiss: That nobody had ever questioned, he had dropped one of the boys off after practice a few times and his name just never came up. So that was a very successful case that just made the papers recently.
Leischen Kranick: What was that like when you realized that you had a hit? I’m just curious from an emotional standpoint.
Dr. Dena Weiss: It was a very exciting, because it was one of those cold cases we did not think we would ever solve. And the boys, even though they are grown men, they would still call and come in monthly and they were very emotional and often cried and didn’t understand why we couldn’t solve it.
So it was just so rewarding to see them. They were very hurt when they found out it was actually somebody they knew, but at least they had some closure.
Leischen Kranick: Wow. Well, congratulations. It’s so amazing to hear how this new type of technology can just solve these cases that, like you said, were basically unsolvable for a few decades. So that’s amazing. We’ll include a link to that article in our show notes so people can learn more about it.
Dr. Dena Weiss: Yes. The victim’s name was Linda Slaten.
Leischen Kranick: So one thing I want to talk to you about, a lot of our listeners are law enforcement officers and I wanted to get your perspective on evidence collection. Obviously, you would go to crime scenes and that would be your primary role, but I was wondering, do you have some thoughts or recommendations for officers when they enter a crime scene? Is there something you’d like every officer to know when they come into a crime scene to help the crime scene investigators?
Dr. Dena Weiss: Well, now more than ever, the officers need to tread lightly when they enter a crime scene, especially with the sensitivity of forensic tests such as Touch DNA. It involves a huge contamination issue just with people that live wherever the crime happened and with officers arriving at the scene.
We like for only the first officer at the scene and the detectives assigned to the case to actually enter the crime scene besides us crime scene investigators. What that means is the colonels, the lieutenants, the chief of police, they have no business anywhere near where the crime actually occurred. And they like to show up, they like to be seen there, but they need to be in the corner somewhere talking to the media and not entering the scene because they’re not providing any kind of service to assist the investigation.
The first officer at the scene is very important because as soon as he makes the scene safe, he needs to attempt to determine where the suspect entered and choose another route into the crime scene. If the suspect broke into the back door, the officer should enter through the front door. This will preserve a lot of evidence and prevent the contamination right off the bat.
The officer should also wear personal protective equipment, PPE. Typically, just masks, booties, and gloves are required unless it’s a decomp scene or the officer finds out that the person was ill that is dead inside. And if that’s the case, they need to wear a full body suit and maybe a respirator.
A lot of them forget to put their booties on, so it’s not uncommon for me to work a robbery at a bank robbery and pull all of these boot prints off of the floor in the bank and have to go back and pull all the officers that were at the scene and take copies of their boot impressions and say, “Guess what? This isn’t the bad guys. These are your impressions.”
So they need to remember at least their masks, their gloves, and their booties. But in a nutshell, the officers, they want to avoid leaving boot prints, they want to avoid fingerprints anywhere, and, of course, they should not spit or sneeze anywhere in the crime scene.
If they find evidence like a bullet or a firearm, I know they’re always excited, they want to pick it up and show the crime scene investigator what they found, but really they need to just place a marker near that piece of evidence so we can get a photograph exactly where it was before it’s moved and they should avoid touching it.
Some of the worst problems we have is not only with officers, but with EMS and firemen. They’ll come into a suicide scene, and, of course, the first thing they do is check to see if the victim is alive, and if it’s a gunshot wound, then they will oftentimes just take the gun out of the victim’s hand and set it on the nightstand somewhere, or kick it out of the way for their own safety.
But then they leave. By the time the crime scene investigator gets there and we’re told it’s a suicide, but we’re looking at the firearm and it’s on the table across the room, we’re like, “I don’t think it’s a suicide.” So we offer training routinely for the fireman and the EMS on situations like this and as well as our officers, just little things to watch out for to make our life a little easier and not have them dragged in to have their boot impressions taken or their, well, their fingerprints are already in the system, but that’s just more work for me to do, to have to eliminate the officer’s fingerprints off of evidence items.
Leischen Kranick: Nice. Those are great recommendations. Just to make sure our audience all understands this, could you explain what Touch DNA is and how it’s different than regular DNA, I guess, or regular ways of analyzing DNA?
Dr. Dena Weiss: Yes. Body fluid DNA is going to be your blood, saliva, semen, vaginal fluid, but Touch DNA is actually epithelial cells on your hands that you are excreting daily when you grab things. You don’t even have to grab them with any kind of force, just if you touch things, you’re leaving these epithelial cells that are constantly shedding. You’re leaving these cells on items and we can get DNA from these epithelial cells.
So this opened a whole new door for us. It’s great that we can find a suspect’s DNA on the gear shift or the steering wheel of a car now, but we’re also getting a lot of other profiles on items because so many people are shedding epithelial cells and they don’t disappear that easily.
So contamination, is a big problem. The crime lab won’t always do analysis for burglary scenes or motor vehicle thefts because they’re just overwhelmed with the evidence. They try and stick to just violent crimes because there’s so much processing to do and so many different DNA profiles that need to be separated because they’ve got the epithelial cells, the Touch DNA everywhere.
So it’s been the most helpful on evidence that we submit such as firearms where we’re getting touch DNA on the grips of the firearms or door knobs at burglaries. Specific items that may not have been touched a lot or that we get to where they’ve touched it in a short amount of time, we know they were the last one to touch it, then we can pretty much be sure that’s the profile we’re going to get.
Leischen Kranick: Interesting. I’m wondering, does Touch DNA, can that be used in like cold case evidence, evidence that’s been preserved for a period of time, or is it something that needs to be relatively “fresh”?
Dr. Dena Weiss: We are still finding Touch DNA on old cases. In the Linda Slaten case, we thought for sure we would find some on the coat hangers, but it was such a small surface area that we just could not get a strong-enough profile. But it is strong evidence.
We’ve even found it on clothing, like if a suspect grabs an individual. I had a recent case where a robber, we didn’t find any fingerprints anywhere, but he had grabbed the back of the manager’s shirt and shoved him into a room, and we swabbed his whole shirt, and his DNA, his Touch DNA, was on the bank manager’s shirt.
Leischen Kranick: Is the collection of that kind of DNA a lot different than what you were doing in the past? Does it require a different skillset or how do you collect that kind of evidence?
Dr. Dena Weiss: No, it can be swabbed or scraped the same as with dried blood or semen evidence, it’s about the same procedure. You just have to be sure to use sterile swabbing and make sure the swabbing is dry. If we’re swabbing a shirt, we might want to put just a little bit of saline on the swab, sterile saline, and then swab the shirt, and then we need to let the swab dry before we submit it to the lab for testing.
But it’s a fairly simple procedure that we’ve trained some of our officers to do. On every shift, we have one crime scene officer that’s trained routinely on collecting fingerprints, collecting gunshot residue kits, and collecting any kind of DNA evidence. So they can depend on that one officer in their unit on that shift that can help collect evidence if our crime scene unit can’t get out there.
They don’t do it on major crimes, but they may do it for a burglary to a vehicle or a simple burglary to a residence that doesn’t involve a lot of evidence collection. Just kind of helps us out because there’s a lot of crime every day and every night and there’s only four crime scene technicians and they work every day, 8:00 to 5:00, and then they’re on shifts at night, like one crime scene investigator is on call one week of the month.
Leischen Kranick: That definitely makes sense to kind of cross-train regular officers so that they have some crime scene experience.
Dr. Dena Weiss: They’re a big help. Like when we have burglaries to vehicles at car dealerships where there’s 50 cars that have been broken into, they’re always the first ones to jump in and say, “Hey, I’ll help you process.” And so, it’s good teamwork.
Leischen Kranick: Excellent. So as you’re describing this technology and how it’s applied and used, one thing that came to mind is: I know you have a lot of experience testifying in court and I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that part of your job. And maybe even offer some insight to other officers who may be having to testify in court, strategies that you use, or things that you’ve learned over the years?
Dr. Dena Weiss: My testimony in court is a lot different than the officers’ because I’m allowed to give opinions and they’re stating the facts. So the officers just basically have to stick to their investigative interviews with the suspects and their interactions with the crime scene investigators.
As a latent print examiner or a crime scene technician, I have to go in and talk about scientific methods and protocols and why I can say a fingerprint matches or why it doesn’t match or why maybe there wasn’t a fingerprint found on a gun. So there’s a lot more educational prep I guess you could say for a forensic examiner to testify and we are questioned by the defense on theory all the time.
If the evidence technique that we used they feel does not meet the standards of the court, we have to provide background on it, we have to provide slide shows of the evidence and make charts of unknown fingerprint and known fingerprint and show exactly what we were comparing. It’s a different kind of testimony, but either way you have to be a good writer and a proficient speaker in order to testify in court and that’s for officers and crime scene investigators.
Leischen Kranick: And I imagine it’s fairly stressful. Over the years, I’m sure you’ve done it enough that you feel increasingly confident about it, but is it still a pretty stressful thing to go through?
Dr. Dena Weiss: Extremely. They always joke with me at work because I testify more than anybody. As I walk out the door, “Why are you so nervous? Why are you so nervous?” Well, it’s safer for you to be nervous because then you’re more alert and I read and prepare.
As many years as I’ve been doing it, I’m always nervous, but as soon as I get on the stand and spit out my background and my qualifications, I slowly start to calm down, and talk to the jury and explain to them exactly what I did. And that’s in an unbiased manner, that’s all I can do, and just try and be successful doing it.
Leischen Kranick: And I imagine your academic training plays a part in that as well. You mentioned having to do a lot of research on the case and all the technology and all that. And as a Ph.D., you obviously did a lot of research and writing for your academic credentials, so I imagine that helps out a lot.
Dr. Dena Weiss: It does. My undergraduate degree was in chemistry and I earned a sociology degree as well, which back in the ’80s included criminal justice classes, whereas now there’s actually criminal justice degrees. The criminal justice class has provided me background regarding the justice system and my chemistry degree assisted me in understanding, applying scientific methodology and theory.
So it’s important for anybody who wants to go into this field to have a little bit of a science background. It’s kind of two different kinds of jobs that I worked. If you’re going to be an employee for a state crime lab, and most students don’t understand this, the educational requirements are pretty high. Back when I worked there, every single crime scene analyst there had at least a master’s degree, if not a PhD, because they had to have a lot of scientific knowledge.
Whereas if you are a crime scene investigator working for a local police department, the educational requirements typically are just an AA and you can have an AA in criminal justice and you’ll be fine. The education and job requirements can vary depending on the area of the country you live in. And I always encourage my students to look into that before they get too much into the degree program, because some places like Chicago require the crime scene investigators to be sworn officers. Whereas in Florida, where I live, we were just civilian employees, we are not sworn officers.
Leischen Kranick: When you talk about the educational component of this, you mentioned some of the requirements for different positions. When you have students come to you and say, “I want to be a crime scene investigator like you,” do you have specific recommendations in terms of their academic pursuits? I know obviously science is a big part of it, but specifically forensic science courses or concentrations?
Dr. Dena Weiss: Yes. If they can do a crime scene investigation certificate along with their criminal justice degree, that’s helpful. Or if they can just take electives that involve the pathology of death or crime scene investigations, that will assist them with just their basic criminal justice knowledge.
And of course, internships with the police department, you learn so much. You can also intern at the medical examiner’s office. A lot of my students that want to be crime scene investigators, they’ve seen all the shows, but they haven’t experienced the smells and the sights. And I tell them, if you can call your medical examiner’s office and arrange to view an autopsy, you need to do that before you decide that this is your career.
As I have seen many crime scene investigators be hired by our department and after their first really gruesome crime scene, or their first really bad decomp autopsy, they’re putting their keys on the counter and walking out.
Leischen Kranick: I can’t even imagine. On this podcast and with a lot of our articles, we talk about stress management for anyone who works in the law enforcement field. And you are a person whose job it is to go to these scenes and process them and I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how you manage that just from kind of a psychological and mental health standpoint. I imagine it’s just incredibly stressful. What are your thoughts on how you’ve dealt with that over the years?
Dr. Dena Weiss: I used to tell my husband that I can never be a dentist and I didn’t want to be a doctor because I didn’t like to clean the spit pans out when I was a candy striper, but I just think some people are born to do certain jobs and they move on if they can’t handle them.
With our job, probably one of the most difficult situations I had was dealing with crime scenes involving children. I responded to traffic fatalities involving children, homicides where parents killed a child to get back at a spouse, accidental deaths such as drownings and newborn suffocations where they bring the baby in bed with them and accidentally roll over on them.
These were particularly difficult to do just seeing the excruciating pain that the parents are going through when they realize they rolled over on their child overnight or they didn’t watch them for two seconds in there in the pool.
In these situations, it makes for a really bad day. It was difficult leaving my own two little ones at home to go work a crime scene in the middle of the night or just not be able to respond to daycare immediately when they’re sick. There were many times I’d be reading my son a book at night and my pager would go off and I’d have to go out to a crime scene.
And I’ll never forget one night he overheard my conversation with a detective that it was a suicide, a man shot himself in the head. I didn’t really think he was listening to me as he’s sitting here with me, but he started to cry when he found out I was leaving.
I left and when I came home, my husband said that my mother had called after I left and my son, who he was only five, he answered the phone and my mom said, “Why are you crying?” He said, “Mommy had to stop reading me a book because some dummy shot himself in the head.” So it was rough.
I can remember one time working a scene during bull season, which down here in Florida that’s alligator mating season, and someone had spotted a skull in a giant alligator nest in the middle of a lake. They called the crime scene unit to come out and retrieve the skull and determine if any other skeletal remains were nearby or in the nest or anything.
Well, it’s not real safe to go out there during bull season or any time to go near an alligator nest, so they sent me out into the lake with my waders on, with two snipers on either side of me to shoot any alligators that came at me as I went towards the alligator nest. I was a new hire, so it wasn’t like drawing straws. They just told me, “Yeah, this is you. You’re going out there.”
So I was halfway out into the lake, almost to the alligator nest and my cell phone went off and I was like, “ohh.” So I just glanced at the number and it was my son’s daycare. I was like, “Why are they calling me?” So I quickly answered the phone and the director says, “You need to come pick your son up. He’s running a fever.” I was like, “Well, I can’t really do that right now.” I didn’t tell her I was in the middle of the lake with alligators.
So all of those things were challenges to me and made it a little more stressful to deal with the job. But I worked with a team of three girls most of my career. We didn’t have a huge turnover except for our fourth position, seemed like it was always rotating. Somebody would stay a month, two months, and they just couldn’t handle the job and they would leave.
But three girls and I worked together for most of my career and we learned to support each other, even at the most horrific crime scenes. And it seemed like some of the scenes affected some of us worse than others, but it seemed one of us always remained strong.
So we were just very good together. And of course, hugs and humor always help, and just one of those things that you just deal with but you also lean on everybody you work with as well.
Leischen Kranick: Yeah. I hear that pretty often from officers how important that comradery and they talk about obviously brotherhood, sisterhood, and just really, like you said, leaning on each other to get you through. Just what I can’t even imagine as a civilian, I can’t imagine what you’ve seen.
Dr. Dena Weiss: Well, and it’s weird how some scenes would trigger some of us and not others. I mean, I can remember a crime scene where my boss just went numb and was ghost white and just stood there, couldn’t do anything. We had to take her to the van. She couldn’t even help us process the scene and the rest of us were fine.
It was an accidental crime scene where a woman that worked for a tree company had not pulled her hair back and her hair got caught in the big wood chipper and she’d been completely pulled through the wood chipper. My boss had been working at the police department since she was 18 years old and she just could not process that crime scene. Other times it was little crime scenes that would affect somebody. So, yes, comradery is a big thing, leaning on each other.
Leischen Kranick: Did you also have other personal, I almost want to say coping mechanisms? Like you mentioned having what sounds like a wonderful family. Do you have any other kind of advice for either new officers or those who are a few years in about just suggestions on how to kind of manage that?
Dr. Dena Weiss: You just kind of have to leave it at the door when you come home. When I first got married, I was kind of insulted that my husband didn’t ask me where I was, everything I did all day long. In the long run, I think it helped me to not have to come home and relive it all. I would come home, if dinner was ready or if the kids needed to be put to bed, we just went right into that mode and didn’t rehash what I had been doing.
By the time I got cleaned up and ready to go, I just went right back into my home life. So I was lucky I never really suffered from nightmares or not being able to deal with anything as far as crime scenes go. There’s a few that linger in your head, but I just was lucky enough to be able to jump from work to my home life and be fine.
Leischen Kranick: Wonderful. That’s great to hear. Now that you’re entering this new phase in retirement, you talked a little bit earlier about how you’re adjusting and I know it’s still relatively new, but I was wondering, was there anything that you did to just kind of prepare for retirement or now that you’ve been in it a little bit, recommendations for officers who are nearing their retirement, any thoughts for them?
Dr. Dena Weiss: I think sometimes men have a more difficult time handling it than women because women jump right into other responsibilities, like maybe helping the kids with their college applications or babysitting their grand kids. There’s just so many things we can get our hands in as women.
I say this from experience from watching my dad retire. He wasn’t law enforcement, but he worked in government for 45 years, and when he retired, he got up in the morning and had coffee with my mom and then he literally sat at the breakfast bar until she came home from lunch. He just couldn’t get used to not having that daily routine.
So really, I think the thing that helps me the most, I did not lose touch. I still walk the lake with a couple of the people that I worked with, I have lunch with them once a month, I don’t miss a birthday lunch, and if there’s an interesting case, they usually call me and ask my opinion.
So I guess it’s just best not to go cold turkey. Don’t just completely walk away from it because it’s always going to be a part of your life. So just walk away gradually but still stay in contact with the people that you spent much of your life with.
Leischen Kranick: Right. And I think another thing that you’re talking to about here is just that balance. I think a lot of officers who I’ve talked with, being an officer is their identity. It’s all they know, all their friends are officers, it’s just they’ve been so immersed in this field that when they’re now out of it, that transition is just incredibly hard because they feel like they’ve lost a part of them. Can you speak to that at all?
Dr. Dena Weiss: I think actually teaching helps a lot. A lot of my friends that are officers that are getting ready to retire, that’s what they transitioned to, is teaching. It’s very rewarding to be able to teach someone else your skills and know they’re going to replace you.
Some of them can also volunteer with the police explorers, the young high schoolers that are coming up in the world and want to be police officers. It’s almost like the Boy Scouts, a unit where they compete and they learn skills and officers can volunteer to do that and still be in to things. And Citizen Police Academy, they also always need officers to come speak. I mean, I just think still being involved is a big part of accepting retirement.
Leischen Kranick: Like you said, being able to share your experience and help train others to follow in your footsteps essentially.
Dr. Dena Weiss: It’s very rewarding, especially the military. I love to teach our military students because they have made such strong ethical choices in their career. They’re used to committing themselves 100% to their job and they do that in their schoolwork. And to know that they’re fighting for our country but then turning around and coming home and wanting to be law enforcement, it just makes teaching them very rewarding.
Leischen Kranick: And very honorable to continue serving their country and keeping all of us safe.
Dr. Dena Weiss: Exactly. And some of them don’t miss a beat. I mean, the minute they’re done with the military they’re right in law enforcement.
Leischen Kranick: Well, Dena, this has just been so enlightening and I just really appreciate you sharing your expertise with our listeners. And I wanted to know if there’s anything else that you wanted to add to our conversation.
Dr. Dena Weiss: I just encourage any other instructors to make sure that you offer the students advice on what’s required for the job whether it be a police officer or a crime scene investigator. Let the students know what the educational and job requirements are as you get to know them in the first week in the introductions. And that’s about it, I guess.
Leischen Kranick: Yeah. And that’s another really wonderful thing about AMU, is so many of our faculty, like yourself, have incredible field experience in what they’re teaching. So you’re not just an academic, you’re a professional in this field, so really brings a lot to the classroom. So thank you for that.
So thank you again, Dena, for sharing your expertise and I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. Be well and stay safe.
About the Guest:
Dr. Dena Weiss is an associate professor at American Military University, teaching courses in criminal justice and forensic science. She recently retired after working 24 years as a crime scene investigator and fingerprint examiner for a central Florida police department. Prior to that position, she was a serologist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Her court experience includes testifying in more than 200 federal and circuit court cases in over 15 Florida counties.
Dr. Weiss is also an active member of the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System (FEMORS). Her educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Sociology and a master’s degree in Forensic Science from Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as a Ph.D. in Business Administration with an emphasis in Criminal Justice.