Stevenson Adjunct Professor and Chief of Forensic Science and Evidence Management Division with the Baltimore Police Department, Steven O’Dell was honored this month with the 40 Under 40 Award.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) created this international award to recognize law enforcement professionals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Individuals were selected for their dedication to improving their communities and supporting the people they serve. They included special investigators, managers, commissioners, chiefs, and captains from around the world.
IACP President Terrence M. Cunningham, Chief of the Wellesley, Massachusetts Police Department was quoted in the press release by saying, “Each one of these individuals was chosen for their commitment to their agencies, their communities and strengthening the law enforcement profession.” For the full press release from IACP, please click here.
We interviewed Steven about his educational and professional journeys that lead him to receiving this great honor:
Please tell us about your educational and professional background.
I have a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and a Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies with a Minor in Communications, a Master of Science in Forensic Science, and a Master of Business Administration. Currently, I am in my second year of study for a Ph.D. at Staffordshire University in the U.K. I hold two Board Certifications from the American Board of Criminalistics as a Fellow in Comprehensive Criminalistics and a Diplomat in Molecular Biology, and I am a Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst through the International Association for Identification. Previously, I was a Certified Bloodstain Analyst as well and I am now in the middle of re-certification.
Recently, I was promoted to Chief of the Forensic Sciences and Evidence Management Division at the Baltimore Police Department. Within my role, I have command over the Forensic Laboratory Section, the Crime Scene Sciences/Evidence Section, and the Body Worn Camera Unit. In late 2013, I arrived to Baltimore City as the Deputy Director of the Crime Laboratory Section, and then was promoted to Director in August 2014, and Chief of the Division in July 2016. I have worked at the municipal, state, and federal levels of government as well as in the private sector. Additionally, I have worked internationally including three years in Iraq. As a qualified DNA Quality Assurance Systems Assessor, I have performed assessments at more than 20 agencies. Over my career, I have consulted with multiple agencies and taught as an Adjunct Professor at numerous universities and colleges. Currently, I am an Adjunct Professor at Stevenson University and recently was selected to the Faculty Council for a 2016-2017 term.
Currently, I am on the Executive Board of the American Congress of Forensic Science Laboratories and the Board of Directors for the International Association for Identification (IAI). For IAI, I serve on the Social Media Committee, the Nominating Committee, and the Forensic Management Committee. Additionally, I am on the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association Forensic Science Committee.
Were you always interested in a career in law enforcement and/or forensic science?
I was always interested in law enforcement due to the depth of problem-solving involved, but I never articulated an interest specifically in forensic science. It so happened that the combination of my undergraduate degrees ended up coming together and igniting an interest in a field where I could serve both interests; science and problem-solving.
What education and degrees are required to be in your current position(s)?
To work in forensic science, a candidate will need, at a minimum, a Bachelor of Science degree in a science, such as Chemistry or Biology. In today's job market, a graduate degree is highly desirable – including crime scene investigation. The field overall is changing rapidly as expectations are growing and required qualifications are increasing. While there are still many agencies and organizations that have not caught up yet, they will before too long. Many job seekers will have to work their way through crime scene investigation to make their way into the forensic laboratory (note: not all agencies but many of the big ones that use civilian crime scene personnel). For my job in particular, you need those minimum requirements of the degree and highly-desirable professional certifications.
What are your most memorable experiences while working with the Baltimore Police Department?
In my short time with the Baltimore Police Department, I have had many memorable experiences, and it's hard to pick just one. I have really enjoyed working with the Department and getting a chance to positively contribute to helping resolve some very serious crimes. My most memorable experiences revolve around those actions at crime scenes or in the lab that I have contributed to, even from a Command level position.
What advice would give a forensic student or professional interested in pursuing a career in forensics?
Adjust your expectations to a reasonable degree of reality of how your career will start and how hard it might be to start your career. Getting your first job can be one of the more difficult parts of the process so you have to be patient, persistent, motivated, positive, and confident. You may have to start in crime scene whether planned or not, you may have to work shift work, you may not get any holidays for years, you may have to move to get your first job, and you may have to spend money to get your first job (i.e., travel multiple times). This is all after getting a degree and having completed an internship, which I also highly recommend.
Additionally, while you are in school I recommend joining the International Association for Identification (IAI) as a student member and possibly the American Association of Forensic Sciences also as a student member. I strongly encourage you to attend an IAI conference as a student and network and get to know the field – this is where you will find crime scene personnel.
During or after earning your degree, if you can take any professional training – do it. Professional training is viewed differently than education and that's important to understand. This costs money, but it will be well spent. And finally, bring any training and portfolio work product to your interview and sell yourself. If you are going to work in forensic science you have to be able to effectively communicate, and the interview is step one!
What does the honor of being recognized as one of the Top 40 under 40 honor from mean to you?
The honor means a lot to me to be recognized as one of the 40 law enforcement professionals under the age of 40 from around the world that demonstrate leadership and exemplify a commitment to their profession. To be recognized by such a prestigious, international, and well-known professional organization such as the IACP is truly humbling and very exciting. It provides a level of validation to some measure that maybe I have been doing some things right early in my career that I can be proud of and build upon. I feel proud and that's a nice feeling.
You can follow Steven O’Dell on Twitter @CrimeLabBoss and keep up with the Baltimore Police Department Forensics team by liking their Facebook page located here https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreForensics.