by Terry Rogers
On Monday, January 13, Chief Kenneth Brown of the Milford Police Department presented Larry Simpkiss with the Milford Police Department Civilian of the Year Award. Simpkiss is the Crime Scene Investigator with MPD.
“Since he has been here, Larry has helped us solve many crimes that may not have been without his expertise,” Chief Brown said. “His knowledge is outstanding and we are very lucky to have him with us.”
Simpkiss, who is originally from New Castle County, served in the United States Army for four years before accepting a position as a police officer in South Florida. He worked in that capacity for seven years before moving his family back to Delaware.
“When I came back to Delaware, I was hired by Dover Police Department and I stayed there for 21 years,” Simpkiss said. “While working for Dover, they sent me to the National Forensic Academy where I attended classes for ten weeks. At the time, we did not have a crime scene department at Dover. Those classes opened my eyes to what we had been missing in crime scenes.”
Simpkiss began his training in crime scene investigation at the Law Enforcement Innovation Center at the University of Tennessee. It is one of the best law enforcement training programs in the country and includes what is known as the “Body Farm.”
“When someone donates their body to science, they could be sent to the Body Farm,” Simpkiss said. “On the farm, they bury them, place them in sheds, in woods, various locations. The process allows them to notate how a body decomposes in various settings. What they learn through their research there, they pass on to us in crime scene investigation so that when we find a body somewhere, we are able to determine how long it has been there.”
Simpkiss explained that in all his years in law enforcement, from a road officer, accident investigator and even a detective, being a crime scene investigator has been the most fascinating.
“It is like putting together a puzzle,” Simpkiss said. “Piecing together evidence and trying to determine what exactly happened. What we find through our investigation may not be what the detective is leaning toward and it may actually reveal something that does not fit with what witnesses are saying. The evidence does not lie. It can be interpreted in different ways but it does not lie.”
One of the most challenging parts of his job as a crime scene investigator is testifying in court as a crime scene may have a considerable amount of evidence.
“You have to have a really good memory and take excellent notes,” Simpkiss said. “When you are testifying, you must rely on your notes and memory to answer questions and you cannot stray from them. You may also have a defense attorney who is trying to trip you up or confuse you, but since I am the only crime scene investigator in Delaware, my credentials go a long way when I am in a court room. It isn’t often the defense attorneys try to confuse me.”
According to Simpkiss, anyone who is thinking of going into a career as a crime scene analyst should get a college degree in biology or law enforcement, something he did not do but wishes that he had. All of Simpkiss’ education he learned on the job and through specialized classes his departments sent him to over the years.
“Anyone who wants to do this work would definitely benefit from a degree in forensic biology,” Simpkiss said. “A lot of what we do is related to biology. You also need to have a very strong stomach because there are smells you will never forget. Looking at the photo of a decaying body is one thing but the smell can be extremely unpleasant. An attention to detail is also very important as any missed detail could make a difference in solving the case. For example, you may ignore a cigarette butt on the ground because there are several of them. DNA in that cigarette butt may provide you with evidence that could solve the case, so you don’t want to miss anything.”