For years, Hollywood movie makers have sought the expertise of the U.S. military to serve as technical advisors, to ensure what was depicted on the silver screen was as true to life as possible.
Now, in a role reversal of sorts, the Office of Special Investigations has employed Hollywood’s make-believe realism to advance real life law enforcement skillsets.
On June 11, 2021, Special Agents from OSI Detachment 217; 2nd Field Investigations Region, Operating Location-B; and Procurement Fraud Det. 3, OL-A; Investigators from the 355th Security Forces Squadron; and the 355th Judge Advocate Chief of Military Justice, all from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., “starred” in Crime Scene Training, presented by Forensic Science Consultants from the 12th Field Investigations Squadron, Buckley AFB, Colo.
A “cast” of 23 participated in the training, held at the Mescal Movie set in Mescal, Ariz., where the majority of the 1993 movie “Tombstone” was shot.
“Tombstone” is an American Western film based on events in Tombstone, Ariz., including the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Earp Vendetta Ride, during the 1880s. It depicts a number of Western outlaws and lawmen, such as Wyatt Earp, Johnny Ringo, and Doc Holliday.
At this unique venue, the FSCs recreated the murder scenes of town Marshal Fred White and Morgan Earp as depicted in Tombstone. The location and buildings used for the training were the same used in the film. The scenes were complete with period correct clothing for the deceased, plus weapons and movie props to create the feel and atmosphere of the Old West.
The training focused on crime scene documentation, including sketching the scene to scale and photography. FSCs also provided training on the proper way to locate, document and collect evidence, like an Old West-style revolver.
The concept for this outside-the-box training belonged to OSI Det. 217 Commander, Lt. Col. (SA) John Hoffmann.
“My wife and I saw a show at the Gunfight Palace in Tombstone, Ariz., which looked like an old west saloon,” Hoffmann said. “I thought it would be interesting to use a set like that to do crime scene training with the FSCs. I wanted to make the training interesting by incorporating some of the local history as the backdrop, instead of the usual dorm room or day room.”
It took nearly two months of coordination for the production to come to fruition.
“Once I scouted the location, I pitched the idea via Zoom to SA Heather Birks, the OSI 12 FIS Forensics Flight Chief,” Hoffmann explained. “We reviewed photos I took of the set to determine what types of scenes they could set up for the training.”
Birks’ team was excited about the concept, but those who had not seen “Tombstone” needed to watch the movie to determine what crime scenes they wanted to recreate, what they needed for props and how to stage the scenes.
Hoffmann then informed the Mescal Movie set proprietors what OSI needed to stage the indoor set and outdoor area. The areas used for the training are the actual locations where the scenes were shot in the movie. Training dummies were acquired from the fire department to replicate the victims’ bodies, and a medic would be on scene, if needed during the training, since the set was about a 40-minute drive from Davis-Monthan.
Once all the moving parts were in place, SA Hoffmann conducted a type of casting call, by inviting the law enforcement members to take part in the training production.
Afterwards, “Crime Scene Training” received rave reviews from those in the know.
“This venue gave our agents and our investigative partners a chance to exercise their skills in a unique and realistic environment. Using story lines and set locations from the movie provided context for the scenes and presented challenges not found in a dorm room or house on base,” said Hoffmann. “Including the Judge Advocate and Security Forces in this training gave the Joint Base Enforcement Team on Davis-Monthan a chance to train and learn together. Building these team bonds in training breaks down the tribal boundaries of our career fields and better prepares us to investigate criminal matters as a cohesive unit.”
“This training was a great opportunity for OSI, Security Forces, and JA to work together to enhance our crime scene investigation skills in a fun, historically-rich environment,” said Capt. Jordan Grande, 355th Assistant Staff Judge Advocate. “The FSCs have a wealth of experience in processing crime scenes and we were lucky to learn from them and also work in some Western movie references along the way. Our organizations continue to partner as a Joint Base Enforcement Team to build our investigative capabilities as one cohesive team and this training was another step forward in that effort.”
Will there be a sequel to “Crime Scene Training?”
“It could be done again, maybe in a couple years,” Hoffmann said. It’s really up to the detachment commander. I’m sure the movie set would host us again if we wanted. The medic who attended was thinking about using the set for medical training. I guess it’s really up to the imagination of the user.”