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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
agencies, even though NCIC recently granted access to the files by ME/Cs. Access, however, is not uniform, and the information that may be available could be limited.21
The newly established National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Office of Justice Programs, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, NamUs, remains underutilized. Identification efforts for either of the national government databases require multiple investigative as well as data entry skills, and they are labor intensive. ME/Cs need a functional death investigation system; staff to develop identification features; and the necessary education, training, and equipment to utilize the multiple databases that are necessary to identify the unidentified dead and to meet the increasing societal expectations that ME/C systems should be able to identify the unidentified.22 Critically needed is a federal requirement that ME/C systems enter information on the unidentified into federal databases. A later section in this report discusses the medical examiner/coroner role in homeland security.
VARIATIONS IN ME/C SYSTEMS
As of 2004, administratively, 16 states had a centralized statewide medical examiner system, 14 had a county coroner system, 7 had a county medical examiner system, and 13 had a mixed county ME/C system.23 Eight states had hybrid arrangements, with coroners and a state medical examiner office that performed medicolegal duties. The District of Columbia relies on a medical examiner system (see Figure 9-1). In large cities and counties, forensic pathologists serve both as medical examiners and pathologists. A few large systems, such as those of Los Angeles, California, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, bear the historical name of a coroner system, but function essentially under a medical examiner structure. Eighty percent of ME/C offices are run by county coroners.
In total, there are approximately 2,342 separate death investigation jurisdictions.24 Of 1,590 coroner offices in the United States, 82 serve jurisdictions with more than 250,000 people; 660 medium-sized offices serve between 25,000 and 249,999 people; and 848 offices serve small jurisdictions
J.C.U. Downs, Board Member and Chair, Governmental Affairs Committee, National Association of Medical Examiners; Vice Chair, Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations; Coastal Regional Medical Examiner, Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Presentation to the committee. June 5, 2007.
National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, NamUS. See www.namus.gov.
Downs, op. cit.
R. Hanzlick. “An Overview of Medical Examiner/Coroner Systems in the United States– Development, Current Status, Issues, and Needs.” Presentation to the committee. June 5, 2007.