COTTAGE GROVE -- Daniel Anselment knows where the bodies are buried. Because he helped put them there.

Next month, he returns to his native Minnesota to help launch and manage the new Health and Emergency Response Occupations (HERO) Center in Cottage Grove. City Council approved his hiring at a special meeting July 24.

The HERO Center will be jointly owned and operated by Cottage Grove and Woodbury.

Minnesota native Dan Anselment has been hired to manage the HERO Center in Cottage Grove. Submitted photo courtesy of Dan Anselment
Minnesota native Dan Anselment has been hired to manage the HERO Center in Cottage Grove. Submitted photo courtesy of Dan Anselment

“Our family’s back in Minnesota so it will be a nice transition,” Anselment said.

That transition means leaving his job as a training consultant at the National Forensic Academy in Oak Ridge, TN, where he trained cops, detectives and crime scene technicians in the grim science of excavating and examining human remains.

He took the job in 2014 after nearly a decade serving in various law enforcement and forensics capacities in Minnesota.

“My expertise has really become death investigations,” Anselment said. “It’s kind of a gross part of the job."

In Minnesota, Anselment served as a police officer and Rice County Deputy Coroner. He worked as a medicolegal death investigator for the Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner's Office.

He started his career in 2003 as a patrol officer in his native Burnsville. As a death investigator, he’s conversant with such topics as “differential decay” and “post-mortem interval." But it's his track record as a big picture guy that helped to seal the deal with public safety officials from both cities.

Greg Rinzel, Cottage Grove deputy director of public safety, cited “his ability to understand law enforcement and training because he was a law enforcement officer and now he runs the training center. That combination is rare.”

“Out of all the candidates, he was the most well-rounded,” said Woodbury assistant police chief Kris Mienert. “He fit the entire profile of the job description of the HERO Center Manager position. “

Anselment will hire staff and supervise the day to day operations of the center.

“He’ll be bringing instructors to the facility but his knowledge base of bupich safety related training will be paramount to this position as is his ideas to engage the community,” she said

"CSI" University

The National Forensic Academy is part of the Law Enforcement Innovation Center. Affiliated with the University of Tennessee in nearby Knoxville, its faculty includes some of the country’s leading medical and legal instructors and consultants. Anselment oversaw the development of the 10-week Academy, which provides training for police officers, detectives, forensic technicians, State bureau special agents, and investigators from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division. The've graduated over 1,035 men and women from 49 different U.S. states and 3 countries: Iceland, Kuwait, and the Republic of Georgia.

The curriculum includes courtroom testimony, latent fingerprint analysis and footwear and tire impressions. Officers collect and bag evidence at mock crime scenes with names like the blood spatter house, the shooting incident reconstruction site and the post-blast investigation site, where cars get blown up.

Trainees also visit a two-acre parcel of land off-campus that is officially known as the Outdoor Forensic Training Center. Most know it as The Body Farm.

A set of human remains is one of nearly 50 cadavers at the "Body Farm" at Cumberland Park in Tennesse. Law enforcement professionals study the bodies to learn forensic investigative techniques. Submitted photo courtesy of Dan Anselment
A set of human remains is one of nearly 50 cadavers at the "Body Farm" at Cumberland Park in Tennesse. Law enforcement professionals study the bodies to learn forensic investigative techniques. Submitted photo courtesy of Dan Anselment

In 2015, Anselement collaborated with colleagues to establish the body farm in Cumberland Forest.

Here rest about 50 cadavers - donated to the academy by individuals for the furtherance of forensic science - in various states of decay. Some are sprawled at the base of a tree or under leaves. Others are partially or completely buried.

Anselment said he dug some of the holes himself. It’s a grisly but necessary business, one that will give graduates of the academy the tools to give a voice - and justice - to the dead.

“Unfortunately, in law enforcement, that is such an important piece of what we do,” Anselment said. “We come across a lot of death scenes. Some of the most challenging ones are bodies that are buried and bodies that are outside. It really presents a challenge to the investigator.”

The color of a corpse can provide a clue as to the time of death. So can the size of maggots that may have hatched inside a corpse.

"...(B)eing able to understand what the insect activity tells you and what the decomposition tells you and what remains tell you is so critical.”

A HERO's welcome

Anselment is keen to get back to Minnesota and take the reins of the HERO Center. The $20 million, 47,000-square-foot complex includes indoor and outdoor staging areas where police, fire and EMS can stage mock emergencies such as vehicle crashes, hostage standoffs, de-escalation scenarios and structure fires. It's expected to open in January.

“One, it’s a new facility," he said. "Two, they’ve really taken a lot of consideration in the areas we need to be focusing on, providing top-level training environments for first responders."

Anselment earned his Bachelor of Science in Law Enforcement at Metropolitan State University and his Master of Arts in organizational leadership in criminal justice at Concordia University.

“Training is something is something I’ve been in for quite a few years,’ he said. “I’ve been teaching law enforcement for the past 13 years. I have a strong passion for law enforcement, first responders, fire/EMS and training. I think that it's critical for the performance of the job for these personnel, and I want to make sure they’re getting the right training and the right equipment to do that.”

Before becoming a police officer, he played guitar with the Johnny Holm band. But his destiny was in his DNA.

“My dad’s a retired Eagan Sergeant," he said. "My brother is a Burnsville seargent. My sister-in-law is an Eagan sergeant. I got kind of got tired of traveling on the road for music.”