The next generation of crime fightersand the next after thatwill most likely be carrying the academic influence of West Virginia University as they do their work in crime labs and at the scenes of criminal investigations across the country.

Thats because WVU s landmark Forensic Identification Program continues to grow in prestige, as it attracts both students and researchers to the field of study that uses high-tech sleuthing methods to bring criminals to justice.

On Wednesday (Jan. 28), Capitol Hill made another case of credibility for the program when U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.., announced that $4 million was being earmarked to continue its training and research initiatives.

Additional funding just makes sense, Byrd said, in an America made suddenly uncertain by Sept. 11.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the ongoing war on terrorism have bolstered the need for highly trained forensic specialists,Byrd said.

Congress agreed, and approved the additional funding that Byrd was able to drop into the Fiscal Year 2004 Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill. Its a plus, the senator said, that the money is benefitting a program and its professionals based in West Virginia.

West Virginia is playing a major role in cultivating these in-demand security experts,Byrd said.

That sentiment was seconded by Dr. Clifton Bishop, who directs the program at WVU .

These funds have definitely made WVU a national leader in forensic science,Bishop said.Weve been able to develop research programs and weve been able to recruit some top forensic scientists. Were meeting needs.

Meeting needs and then some, said Max Houck, who directs WVU s Forensic Science Initiative, a research arm of Bishops program.

WVU has helped provide international standard methods to every forensic science laboratory over the past three years,Houck said.That goes a long way toward quality and accreditation.

A forensic anthropologist, Houck himself is a nationally known forensic investigator. As an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he assisted in examinations following the Branch Davidian compound fire in 1995 and the Sept. 11 terror attack on the Pentagon.

He was most recently quoted in a Los Angeles Times article detailing the efforts of a group of retired police officers who are employing the latest forensics techniques to crack unsolved crimescold cases.

According to Byrd, it is easy to make a case for the WVU program.

Today, forensic science is opening new doors for investigators,Byrd said.The specialized training that I have helped make available at West Virginia University ensures that graduates are a hot commodity in todays competitive job market.

WVU was the first university in the world to offer a specialized undergraduate degree in identification technologies when it partnered with the FBI s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg in 1997.