The West

Science officer really digs her job
Science Officer Stacey Ferguson, recently returned from the FBI Body Farm. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian.

For most people, spending a week picking through decomposing human remains sounds more like a nightmare than a highly sought-after placement.

But for WA Police Science Officer Stacey Ferguson, 30, attending the FBI facility in Knoxville, Tennessee, was like a dream come true.

"It's something I've always wanted to do, even when I was back at university. It was something you learn about . . . so when the opportunity came up I absolutely wanted to go and have that experience," she said.

The area, nicknamed the "body farm", is a forensic officer's wonderland and can contain the remains of close to 200 people at any time.

There are nearly 1200 individuals in the facility's collection and about 3300 people have pledged their remains.

Described as the first natural laboratory for human decomposition, the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee gives law enforcement participants the chance to excavate and document real bodies in crime scenarios.

In WA, forensic officers practise on the closest thing available to dead humans, decomposing pigs.

"It is an amazing place to go, because here we do our practical exercises on pigs and it's not the same," Science Officer Ferguson said.

"There you spend two days on the practical exercise and actually get to deal with those human remains and going through all the processes required."

Science Officer Ferguson, a member of the police human remains recovery team, is the third scholarship recipient from WA Police to attend the FBI's Human Remains Recovery School, after trips by Const. Greg Ferguson and Const. Mike Lee.

It is facilitated by Ian Dadour, a University of WA forensic entomologist who teaches how insects can help police investigate suspicious deaths.

"You can't get this kind of experience anywhere else in the world," Professor Dadour said.

"What we're building through this is a very skilled group of people who can exhume bodies and do it well . . . it's good for everyone. It's good for WA Police, it's good for the university and it's good for society."

The West Australian

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