By Joanne Tomarchio
Coconut Grove Times, April 2004
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As The Magic City lends a tropical backdrop to homicide investigations on the top rated TV show "CSI: Miami," behind the scenes, real life homicide investigators work in pursuit of the whodunits and the requisite why, where and how. Following procedures eerily close to those of the fictional series, law enforcement toils to keep up with exponentially evolving science and technology.
To help officers mesh time-honored investigating techniques with the latest advances in forensic science, Miami area police departments call on murder guru Vernon Geberth. A nationally renowned author, lecturer, consultant and expert witness on the subject of death investigations - and considered by many as the best educator in the field - Geberth is currently planning his second trip to South Florida in as many years to teach his Practical Homicide Investigation course.
The course includes an extensive study on collecting, preserving and presenting DNA evidence, previews of the latest scientific breakthroughs and updates on new technology.
"Geberth talks a cop's language and we relate to him," says homicide detective Andy Arostegui, a 25-year veteran of the Miami PD. "His course is great and it's not ego-driven. He presents varied case studies, not just ones he was involved in. There could be a female murdered by a gang in Michigan; a mob hit in a New York City restaurant; or the story of a detective from Virginia who nailed a rapist-murderer through dedication and persistence. Vernon doesn't just lecture; he involves the class in various scenarios and gets the adrenalin pumping."
A retired lieutenant commander from the NYPD with more than 35 years of law enforcement experience, Geberth learned his trade by investigating hundreds of homicides during the 1970s and '80s in the South Bronx - a time and place characterized in the 1981 film "Fort Apache: The Bronx." He mastered the science of investigation while working as consultant for Lifecodes Laboratory in New York, one of the first facilities to perform DNA testing for criminal cases.
According to officers who have taken his class, Geberth is clear about where he comes from and what he stands for: finding the people who took the rights from victims who were once living human beings. His distinctive New York vernacular and take no prisoners attitude have attracted thousands throughout the country M flock to his courses.
"He's a no nonsense guy" says Arostegui, "with no time for politically correct pleasantries when discussing murder and the wanton individuals who kill. The man makes it clear that his course is not for everyone, just as being a cop or a homicide detective is not for everyone."
Arostegui, who is now part of MPD's new "Cold Case Unit," attended the course last summer, and on his desk he keeps the condensed version of Geberth's 960-page textbook Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques, Third Edition, more commonly referred to by investigators as the "bible."
Word of Geberth's course sponsored by the MPD last summer has echoed throughout other law enforcement agencies prompting a return visit by the expert this spring.
"It's encouraging to know that the Miami Beach Police Department has jumped on, board for the upcoming May seminar, The course will give more of us an edge in murder-investigations all the way up court," says Beach detective Gus Sanchez, who often refers to his own copy of the "bible."
Geberth says course is designed to reacquaint law enforcement with why they entered into investigation to begin with," a point he makes in various ways.
There is insight to be gained into why Geberth entered the field in his Oath of Practical Homicide Investigation:
"The Lord God said: Thou Shalt Not Kill ... Death investigation constitutes a heavy responsibility, and as such, let no person deter you from the truth and your own personal commitment to see that justice is done, not only for the deceased, but for the surviving family as well. And remember, You're working for God."
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