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
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."