October 28, 2010 - By Greg Bock,








CRESSON - When it comes to a homicide investigation, there's not much retired Bronx homicide chief Lt. Cmdr. Vernon J. Geberth hasn't seen - including how sometimes the biggest obstacles to catching the culprit are the police themselves.

"The main thing is to do it right the first time," said Geberth while taking a break Wednesday afternoon during the fourth annual Criminal Justice Symposium at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson. "You only get one chance."

In more than 40 years of experience, Geberth shared his extensive experience in more than 8,000 homicide cases with the more than 90 students and members of law enforcement agencies who took advantage of the rare training opportunity in the area.

Geberth's presentation, peppered with real-life cases, touched on a myriad of issues surrounding a homicide investigation: from determining the time of death by showing different stages of body decomposition to managing the investigation.

Not securing the crime scene is the No. 1 mistake police make, Geberth said.

"That's where the main issues will arise," he said.

Police officers often are the ones who contaminate their own crime scenes, he said.

Detectives investigating a homicide should never have "tunnel vision" and go into an investigation with a preconceived theory, he said.

As for the public, people need to understand real-life isn't like what is portrayed on television, Gebreth noted.

"People actually believe we find evidence at every scene," he said, adding that for any number of reasons, forensic evidence isn't always there.

One of Geberth's books, Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques, now in its fourth edition, is considered "the Bible of Homicide Investigation," said Joseph Bobak IV, a professor in the college's Department of Law and Justice.

Bobak, the organizer of Wednesday's symposium, said every year the college looks to have a different speaker with the goal of exposing students to different aspects of law enforcement as well as to give area police a chance for additional training.

For criminology senior Joe Stephenson, 21, of Johnstown, Geberth's expertise was invaluable.

"You can tell he's a high-caliber guy with a lot of experience," Stephenson said.