A forensic training center – sometimes indelicately called a “body farm” – is being proposed for a site in Land O’ Lakes.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with the University of South Florida, the Pasco-Hernando State College and Pasco County, in the quest for the facility.
The “body farm” label has stuck as a colloquial description for this type of facility after crime novelist Patricia Cornwell published “The Body Farm” in 1994.
The author detailed the forensic research done on decomposing bodies.
The proposed outdoor and indoor facility in Pasco would be built on about 5 acres of county land, next to the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center on Central Boulevard, off U.S. 41.
State funds will be sought for the approximately $4.3 million project.
State Sen. Wilton Simpson and State Rep. Danny Burgess are working jointly on a budget request for the 2017 legislative session.
At the behest of Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells, county commissioners signed a letter of support following their Jan. 10 meeting in Dade City.
“This is a big deal,” Wells said.
If built, the facility would be the first in Florida, and only the seventh in the nation.
The University of Tennessee in Knoxville started the first forensic training and research center in the 1970s.
Other facilities are at Western Carolina University, Sam Houston State University, Texas State University in Carbondale, Southern Illinois University, and Colorado Mesa University.
A 2015 effort by USF to pursue a forensic training center in Hillsborough County’s Lithia Springs met with stiff opposition from residents. University officials subsequently dropped the pursuit.
Chase Daniels, assistant executive director for Pasco’s sheriff’s office, said “we’re taking a very cautious approach. It’s not going to be in a residential area. It’s next to the jail.”
Fencing and other safety-related measures would be part of the facility’s design, Daniels said.
Forensic anthropology applies scientific methods to aid in identifying the human remains of individuals who often are victims of homicide or disfiguring accidents. Anthropologists also can help identify victims of genocide or individuals found in mass graves.
Anthropologists at USF, for instance, led the investigation on the Dozier project to identify missing children buried in unmarked graves at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
The university also hosts an annual conference for law enforcement, anthropologists and medical examiners who share expertise in crime-solving techniques.
In 2016, the conference included artists who helped imagine and create busts or digital images of unidentified victims to aid several law enforcement agencies from around the nation, including in Pasco, with cold cases.
Pasco’s sheriff’s office has a longstanding partnership with USF’s anthropology department, frequently seeking advice and sharing information.
In working alongside researchers at the proposed facility, “investigators will become highly skilled at collecting, processing, and interpreting evidence in their cases,” according to a statement on the USF website.
The new partnership could open even more opportunities for students at PHSC as well, said Stanley Giannet, the college’s vice president of academic affairs and faculty development.
The goal would be to create an associate degree and certification program in crime-scene technology, Giannet said.
The college also could participate in or host conferences related to forensic anthropology, he added.
Other supporters of the project include Florida’s medical examiners and the state NAACP.
Published January 25, 2017