One of Unity College’s newest professors is Todd Hand, assistant professor of Conservation Law Enforcement. We know sustainability informs every area of academic study at Unity, but we wanted to know more about how law enforcement fits in with that. A former lieutenant in the Criminal Investigation Division in Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Hand previously taught conservation law at Saint Leo University in Florida. Our conversation ranged from cold cases in the Florida swamps to that time he got to be the star of a true crime novel – it doesn’t get any better.

NORTH AND SOUTH: Hand was in Florida for 28 years, most recently in Sarasota. His job interview at Unity was his first trip to Maine. On that visit, he taught a class in front of the faculty, then went out to dinner in Belfast with potential colleagues. “That is the academic way of doing things,” he said. “The way I looked at it was they were checking me out to see if I was weird or if I was going to be chugging down whiskey or eating with my fingers.” Dinner was excellent, and he managed to use his fork.

SIMILARITIES? Florida and Maine might be at opposite extremes, but they’ve got a lot in common when it comes to conservation law, Hand said. There are Native American sites to protect. Also, having an economy based on tourism means a lot of out-of-state visitors who like to hunt (or maybe poach). “They come to Florida for commercial fishing, deer hunting, you name it. Reptiles, amphibians, ghost orchids.”

TRUE CRIME: We always wonder, do law enforcement types read a lot of mysteries? Not Hand. He’s gotten enough of it in real life. “But I am really good friends with a true crime author, actually. I just talked to him last night for two and a half hours.” That’s Fred Rosen, whose book “Flesh Collectors” was based on a grisly case Hand had investigated (rape, murder, cannibalism). “That is how we met each other.” The book was turned into a piece for the Discovery Channel as well, and Hand appeared in it. “They had some other guy play me in the action parts.”

CORE CURRICULUM: Hand is teaching at Unity’s School of Biodiversity Conservation. In the fall, he taught what he calls “Conservation Law 101” to freshmen, and he’s got an ethics class on tap for this spring, as well as a capstone class for seniors finishing up their course of study. It’s a doozy: a homicide case out of Florida. “It’s a real cold case that the students are going to reinvestigate. We are going to go through the whole case and look at forensics and interviews.” At the end of the semester, students will present their findings to faculty, who will be playing the role of their superiors in law enforcement. The students are excited but nervous, Hand said. “They are apprehensive about it a little bit only because they have never done this before.”

TELL US MORE: Hand had hoped to find a cold case in Maine that the students could try to solve, but he was stymied by the fact that he didn’t have friends in law enforcement locally. “I tried to reach out to Bangor PD because of the geographic distance, and they never called me back.” He wasn’t insulted. “They may think I’m some kind of a nut or something.” But as he settles into life in Maine, he’s hoping to make the kind of connections that open the door to local cold cases. “Next fall I hope I can grab on to something from one of the law enforcement agencies in Maine, which would allow us to actually visit the crime scene.”

MURDER AND MAYHEM: The case is a 2008 homicide that began with the discovery of a body buried in a shallow Florida grave. “What makes it so intriguing is not only have they never solved it yet and never located any possible suspects, they have never found the identity of the Jane Doe victim.” Nationwide, no missing persons match the description of this victim.

BEYOND POACHING: What does a Florida cold case have to do with enforcing poaching laws in Maine or elsewhere? The seniors Hand is teaching already have taken criminology and forensics classes. Maybe they’ll get jobs as game wardens, although Hand points out there aren’t that many openings. Knowing how to investigate a murder will help them should they need to seek other law enforcement jobs. “Homicide investigations are kind of the holy grail of any law enforcement officer’s ambitions” – because they demand so much from investigators, and “it is of maximum importance when a life is lost.” But these skills also apply if they find work as a game warden. “They will be handling their fair share of death investigations, whether it is someone that falls out of a tree stand and impales themselves, or drives drunk in a boat and kills three other in another boat. They are death investigations.”

LA DOLCE VITA: Hand has settled in Lincolnville on Megunticook Lake. “I always like the water. It is hard not to like this place. I like to fish and hunt and all that so it is kind of the whole package.” He’s looking forward to ice fishing for the first time – with some help from Unity students who know what they’re doing. “I learn from you showing rather than telling me.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

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