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Released August 03, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - The University of Southern Mississippi's Dean Bertram has a quick smile, but he's very serious when it comes to protecting at-risk Mississippians. Because of this sensibility, the forensic science instructor has become part of a program positioned to record physical identifiable facts about vulnerable citizens who might need help one day.

Bertram's "Roll with Gold Fingerprint and Identification Kit" will be one of the focuses from 6 to 9 p.m. at tonight's "Night Out Against Crime" in Hattiesburg. Bertram and six students will be set up near the Hattiesburg Police Department by Hope Park to help parents and caretakers fingerprint and fill out the kit's requirements, which include dental record information, a swab for DNA purposes, a current photo, descriptions of identifiable physical marks, such as mole and scars, and other helpful characterization for identification purposes.

Most kits of this kind are purchased by law enforcement departments from out of state, but Bertram's kit was designed and created here on the Southern Miss campus. "Our kit is less expensive, and we supply the manpower for organizations and law enforcement groups wanting to use this as a community service activity," Bertram said. "We can ID one child every five minutes or less, and we also aim to aid (caretakers of) elderly people who are prone to wandering." Bertram notes that the kit, which usually costs $1 but is free tonight, could help make identification for anyone who cannot speak for himself or herself, either because of dementia or unfortunate circumstances.

The kit is unique because it is so comprehensive. "I really don't know where else you can get (one this comprehensive)," said Donald Keith, assistant director of the Mississippi Police Corps, which purchased 500 kits for upcoming community service events. "Dean's kit makes it easy to do and assembles all vital information in one place for future use. I think Dean's kit is very progressive. He teaches fingerprinting and crime scene investigation to our students in our training program, so it was a natural progression for us to get these kits from him. I think the whole thing's great."

Keith said that they wanted the kits in order to teach future officers ways to positively impact their own communities. "Officers can go back to their own jurisdictions and implement this type of community service program, and these kits incorporate all the skills we've taught them in proper application proficiency."

The Lamar County Sheriff's Department purchased 250 kits and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Crimestoppers brought home 1,000.

The Southern Miss University Police bought 250 kits after a chance discussion between Bertram and Chief Bob Hopkins piqued the police officer's interest. "We used his kits this last year at Pine Haven (apartments on campus)," Hopkins said. "I thought they were great. They are easy to use and everything you would possibly need - God forbid - if something happened, is there in an easily identifiable folder. I thought it was put together really well, and we're going to use them again after fall semester starts."

Members of forensic science have fingerprinted more than 1,500 so far, and sent out 5,000 kits. Bertram, who created the kit with Southern Miss student Virginia Catt, said he suggests to caregivers to keep the bright black and gold packet in the freezer at home after the kit's been completed. "No one will understand how important having a kit like this is until a child comes up missing," Bertram added. "If you see (the kit) all the time, you tend to remember where it is. You don't want to have to go looking for something like that when you are in a terrible situation."


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August 27, 2004 1:41 PM