Fingerprints aren’t the only thing that can tie someone to a crime, forensic science students learned this week at Lincoln-Way East High School. Footprints and/or shoeprints can also leave telltale signs.
“Footprints are unique,” Dr. Michael Nirenburg, a registered forensic podiatrist told students. “You can get more information from a footprint than a fingerprint.”
Science teacher Jami Voliva invited the forensic podiatrist to school to talk to students about his profession and what can be learned from podiatric evidence.
Dr. Nirenburg, who is among a handful of forensic podiatrists in the world, talked to students about the basics of forensic podiatry, including the basics of gait analysis.
He also explained how forensic podiatrists approach footprint and shoeprint analysis and when it may be appropriate to utilize a forensic podiatrist.
“You each walk in a way that’s unique to you,” he said, explaining how people have been convicted of crimes based on surveillance videos that captured them walking.
Even if the person’s face was not visible on the video, forensic podiatrists have been able to match him to a suspect based on his gait, he added.
One criminal who always left his shoes at the crime scene so he could scale a drainpipe to enter homes was later identified because of the wear patterns in his shoes, said Dr. Nirenburg.
The forensic podiatrist in that case was able to tell police that the owner of the shoes was short and walked with a limp because of a foot deformity. Police were able to find the burglar based on that description alone.
Dr. Nirenberg, who became a podiatric physician and surgeon after learning how they could reveal ailments (such as diabetes or tumors) and, in the case of his father, alleviate knee pain by adjusting the way they walk, founded his own practice, Friendly Foot Care, in Crown Point, Ind. in 1992.
“I’m pretty good at puzzling out and problem solving,” he told students.
Dr. Nirenberg has been featured in several publications, including the Wall Street Journal, as well as the History Channel and Fox News.
His paper “Forensic Methods and the Podiatric Physician,” which was published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, earned him the prestigious Distinguished Podiatric Writing Award while he was still a medical student. He was the first podiatry student to have a paper published in the journal without a co-author.
During his presentation at Lincoln-Way East, Dr. Nirenburg offered background on the history of forensic podiatry, training of a forensic podiatrist, the value of footwear and footprints in forensic science and how to find, preserve and examine footprints.
“I try to host a guest speaker each semester to introduce students to the professions associated with criminal investigations,” explained Voliva. “My hope is that students interested in pathology, medicine in general, and law enforcement understand the intricacies of working with human evidence by seeing the `real’ job.”
Past speakers have included special agents from the FBI, a Will County Crime Scene Investigator , a crime scene photographer, a blood expert who specializes in reading bloodstain patterns and a Will County deputy coroner.
Students were intrigued by Dr. Nirenberg’s presentation.
“I thought it was really interesting,” said senior Torrey O’Connor.
“I didn’t know there were so many (career) avenues for being a podiatrist,” added classmate Jason McAllister. “I learned that whatever career you go into, you can do other things with it.”