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CSI, Baker City
By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
When police moved in to take a closer look at bullet holes in a white '60s-era Cadillac baking in the heat at Virtue Flat, they had the upper hand in the investigation.
Unlike most crime scene investigations, this time they had watched as the shots were fired or even fired them themselves. They took a closer look to see the results of what specific ammunition does to a car body and windshield from various distances and angles.
The car shooting was part of a six-day, 60-hour crime scene investigation training that met for Thursday's session at the Powder River Sportsman's Club's firing range. Eleven officers from law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Idaho participated, including Beth Yeaton of the Baker City Police and John Hoopes and Steve Calloway of the Baker County Sheriff's Department.
Instructor Joe Rynearson shared the knowledge and experience he's gained in his 33-year law enforcement career during the sessions.
Deputy Hoopes expressed the apparent enthusiasm of the entire group in making the trip to the range Thursday.
"I've never got to go out and shoot a car before it's fun," he said.
Along with the fun, however, Hoopes appreciated the opportunity to review what happened after each round was discharged into the vehicle.
"(Rynearson's) not just shooting a car," he said. "He's showing us what it means."
The 36-year-old has been a road deputy with the Baker County Sheriff's Department for a little more than a year and a half after serving as a reserve deputy for 2 years. He was eager to learn as much as possible during the week-long training.
"This is years of experience we're getting here," he said.
Rynearson, 55, is employed by the California Department of Justice. Through his job he provides support for three field offices in the northern part of the state. He uses his vacation time to provide training throughout the United States and in other countries.
"Our approach is that the most important thing officers can take to an investigation is the gray matter between their ears," he said during a brief break in the action while he set up the next shooting demonstration Thursday.
His goal is to help officers make optimum use of the evidence they find at a crime scene.
"We want to give them a better idea of what the evidence means and what questions to ask a suspect," he said. "We want them to look at clues from the point of what might have happened."
By closely examining what occurs when a certain type of bullet penetrates the body of a car or shatters a windshield, officers will have a better understanding of what they're seeing when they investigate an actual crime scene, he said.
"I think I have the best job in the world," Rynearson said. "I catch bad guys and I help teach people how to catch bad guys."
Each department paid the $565 per person charge of sending an officer to the training.
The classes provided lessons for officers of all experience levels, said Yeaton, 50, who joined the Baker City department in February of 1998 after working as a corrections officer in Florida.
Rynearson was brought to Baker City on the recommendation of Detective Kirk McCormick, who attended his classes in Boise a year ago. And while McCormick investigates major crimes for the Baker City police, Yeaton said the training she received will be invaluable in her job as a patrol officer as well.
"This is an excellent training for each and every one of us at the police department," she said. "(Kirk's) not out there at 3 in the morning when you get that call.
"It has given me different ways to look at things," she said. "As a patrol officer, when I get to the scene I'll know better what to look for."
Yeaton said she is grateful she works in Baker City where shootings are rare. She'll be better prepared should a drive-by shooting involving a vehicle happens, but she hasn't investigated even one in her five years with the Baker City department, she said.
Things are different in Idaho, however. Dave Hunsaker of the Boise Police Department recalled at least three shootings involving vehicles in his community in the past year. And Bill Crawford, a detective with the Caldwell Police Department, has investigated two homicides involving vehicles in the past two years along with numerous drive-by shootings.
Crawford, 39, a 13-year veteran who's spent the past 10 as a police detective, also spoke highly of the information provided in Rynearson's training.
"I'll take this back to my department and share the information," he said. "It will improve the way we conduct investigations greatly."
Calloway, who has 12 year's experience in law enforcement, including six in Baker County, works sex abuse cases as well as patrol for the sheriff's department. He believes the crime scene investigation training will help improve his work as a first-responder.
"There are things you can do until the crime team gets there," he said, noting that a major crime team is called out immediately when more serious crimes happen in the county.
During the six-day training, the investigators met daily at the Baker School District office where other class topics ranged from fingerprinting to collecting blood samples and interpreting autopsy reports. Officers also participated in mock crime scene investigations.