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Retired Police Detective Turned Professor Earns Influential Appointment
Peter Valentin ’08 M.S. has been named to an American Academy of Forensic Sciences board that puts him at the forefront of overseeing the organizations that accredit forensic scientists from across the country.
“You document everything, take notes and photographs, record a video, and make a map,” he says. “The other part is that you’re continually thinking about what could have happened here. What scenarios are possible, what stories exist in this scene? If this a home invasion, what would that look like and where would the evidence be? I tell them you’re the one who decides what the context is. No one has set up markers to show you where the evidence is.’”
It takes thinking like a detective and a scientist, he says, investigatively and analytically.
Valentin knows this firsthand, from his career as a forensic scientist and a Connecticut State Police detective with the Major Crime Squad, investigating homicides, suspicious deaths, and major crime scenes across the state until his retirement from the state police in 2011.
“I became a trooper so I could work on crime scenes, and I saw how valuable it was to have a scientist there,” he says.
Today, he says, “I’m blessed to be teaching the next generation of forensic investigators.”
'Weeding out those who claim to be something they are not.'
He is keenly interested in the strength of the field of forensic science, making certain that those who are investigating crime scenes and sharing findings with juries are highly educated and expertly trained.
“Having this opportunity shows the continued status and reputation of the forensic science faculty at University of New Haven within the greater forensic science community,” says Tim Palmbach ’82, ’86 M.S., chair of the forensic science department.
Professor Valentin says he’s proud to be taking on the role, and he says he will work to continually refine and improve the standards of the field and conduct site visits of the organizations that do the accreditations.
“Here’s what we have to be careful of in forensic science,” he explains. “I could create a certification program, and someone could tell a jury they’re certified in something, but what does that actually mean? To someone on a jury, they have no way of understanding what’s a really coveted title and what is a meaningless title that all you need to do is send in a check to get. The FSAB accredits the agencies that provide accreditation, weeding out those that claim to be something they are not.”
'Rewarding the right kind of knowledge.'
Accreditation, he says, “becomes shorthand for you looking at someone and understanding that they know what they are doing in this field. Are we rewarding the right kind of knowledge and experiences? That’s one of the things that intrigues me the most about this.”
In the coming years, Prof. Valentin says the forensic science field will be “moving to a place where certification is mandated for some specialties – particularly anyone handling or analyzing evidence.”
While he wants to be sure accreditation remains extremely rigorous, he also wants the process to “be easier for qualified people to stay certified and, at the same time, ensuring marginally qualified people aren’t able to come in and get something they aren’t entitled to.”
“My real hope is that we foster a path for scientists to be at crime scenes all the time,” he continues. “Right now, we don’t do that. We should, but we don’t. You can’t just grab someone from forensic lab to come to a crime scene the one time you think you need them. You need that person to be with you all the time, every time you go to a crime scene as part of your team.”
'A lot of responsibility hinges on these details.'
Valentin brings with him to the FSAB position extensive experience in the field and comprehensive training on a variety of forensic investigative techniques, including bloodstain pattern analysis, bombing and explosives investigations, alternate light sources for evidence collection, crime scene photography, and disaster crime scene management.
As a former member of Connecticut's elite Urban Search and Rescue team, he looked for evidence of criminal activity at major disasters while working as a rescue specialist focused on saving injured and trapped victims. He’s also part of the Federal Government's disaster forensic team responsible for human remains identification during a terrorist event or disaster.
It is an exceptionally busy life full of work that he says he loves.
“We’re doing some of the most important work, providing information so that justice can be done, offering information to give you confidence that the justice you sought was correct, and ensuring that you’ve arrested the right person and that you understand what crime was actually committed – or if a crime has been committed,” Professor Valentin says.
“A lot of responsibility hinges on these details.”