Episode Archives

Respect is Earned


If you want to be seen as a professional, you must present a professional image and attitude that will command respect.   You WILL NOT get the respect you need simply by your title. Respect is earned not granted.    There has been a long history of perceived and actual unprofessionalism in the Coroner industry. This has spilled over into Medical Examiners office and police agencies as well.  But by and large many coroners struggle with being accepted as a professional.   Is it industry bias, or a reality of the image the coroner is projecting?


Five Areas You Must Address

1. Need for written policy

  •   All staff from top-down
  •     Procedures for all to follow
  •        Victim families
  •        Property
  •       Report deadlines

2. Attitude of cooperation

  •    With co-workers
  •    Other Agencies    Stop power pulls
  •    Interactions with families        

3. Office Organization

  •   Office area appearance
  •   Filing
  •    Reporting
  •    Returning messages   Voice and Email

4. Dress code standards

  •   At office/morgue
  •    On scenes
  •            Proper Dress    Proper Id on clothing
  •     On duty and in public
  •             This includes automobiles
  •                   Is it marked
  •                   Even Magnetic logos
  •                   What type of vehicle

5. Training    

  •       How trained are you    
  •      Can you talk and understand the field
  •      Your responsibility  to get it
  •               This podcast
  •               Reading
  •               Courses   –  local Sheriff Office
  •               ABMDI
  •               Use your ME

Listener Q and A


In this episode, I answer several listeners and student questions.

Psychology of Investigations

In order to determine the direction of an investigation and to prioritize leads, if necessary, death investigators must establish the manner of a death: natural, accident, homicide or suicide. The most overlooked aspect of death investigation is the psychological dimension, which can provide unique leads, correct false assumptions, enhance investigative awareness, and solve cases in surprising ways. In an estimated 10–20% of cases, the manner of death cannot be determined, or worse, has been erroneously categorized.

In this episode, I spoke to Dr. Katherin Ramsland about the Psychology of Death Investigations. Both from the investigators perspective as well as the decedent and victim.


The Psychology of Death Investigations outlines definitively how behavioral evidence can often provide the necessary components and “missing pieces” to complement physical evidence as an essential tool for incident reconstruction. In order to determine the direction of an investigation and to prioritize leads, if necessary, death investigators must establish the manner of a death: natural, accident, homicide or suicide. The most overlooked aspect of death investigation is the psychological dimension, which can provide unique leads, correct false assumptions, enhance investigative awareness, and solve cases in surprising ways.

In an estimated 10–20% of cases, the manner of death cannot be determined, or worse, has been erroneously categorized. Since many jurisdictions can’t afford behavioral consultants, this book has been written to provide practical information for a basic psychological analysis. If the circumstances surrounding a death are equivocal, psychological consultants can compile information retrospectively about a deceased person’s mental state and possible motive to assist with unraveling ambiguity about the manner of death. This is the primary function of a psychological autopsy, and, as such, this is the first book of its kind dedicated solely to the topic. In the event that the manner of death is determined to be a homicide, behavioral profiling can help to focus on the potential pool of suspects.

Professionals and students alike will benefit from the exercise of cognitive awareness and the application of psychological logic presented. Psychologists, medical examiners, coroners, attorneys, fraud examiners, law enforcement personnel, death and homicide investigators, and students enrolled in criminal profiling, forensic psychology, and criminal justice programs will find this text to be a compelling and insightful reference to add to their professional toolkit.


Dr. Katherine Ramsland PhD

Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a consultant, professor of forensic psychology, and the author of 62 books. She teaches a course called Psychological Sleuthing, which focuses on the psychological aspects of death investigation, specifically behavioral profiling and psychological autopsy. She wrote a textbook for the course, The Psychology of Death Investigations.

www.katherineramsland.com

Free episode email course. Receive new training and video to your inbox every week for 12 weeks.  This is real training and will give in detailed actionable steps to becoming a better investigator.

Sign up today at:coronertalk.com/investigator 


 

Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, Police, and Forensic students. This hybrid course looks at death investigation from a combined perspective of law enforcement and medicolegal death investigations.

MLDI online Academy is a Nationally Accredited online training designed to teach all aspects of death investigation and scene management. Unlike any other coroner training today,  this course offers a blended learning style combining online self-paced video training, along with opportunities for live interaction with instructors several times throughout the program, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.


A Medical Examiner’s View of the Coroner System ep225


In this episode, I talk with Forensic Pathologist Dr. Thomas Gilson of Cuyahoga County Ohio. We discuss the debate of Coroner v. Medical Examiner systems and what his thoughts and opinions are of the current status of death investigation in the United States.

We also talk about the need for quality training for Medicolegal Death Investigators. Cuyahoga County Ohio offers basic and advanced medicolegal death investigation training that is open to anyone needing or wanting training.

To see all the current courses and available course dates click on the training link. Training

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Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

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This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information

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The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on-site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.

Plan B Forensics

I this episode I have a conversation with Dr. Suzan Entwistle, DO, C-MDI about how she has combined her education and experience as a trauma surgeon and death investigation to help families get answers about how their loved one died.

Many times families are left with more questions than answers and the “system” in many states are resistant to the idea of open communication with families of a deceased.

Dr. Entwistle and her team provide many answers to families and attorneys as described below.


For attorneys and other professionals, Plan B Forensics will provide a comprehensive picture of what happened to the victim. For families, we are you. We’ve been where you’ve been. The way we have processed our tragedies is to understand as much as possible what happened to our loved ones. We cannot change the outcome, we cannot undo what was done. But we are a collective voice for the victim and an advocate for the survivors. In memoriam. For closure, for peace. For all of us.

We put the whole story together for you to gain an accurate picture of how things went wrong and a life ended. We don’t guess, make assumptions or chase theories. We’re not on anyone’s side but the victim and truth. We start with the most important evidence and the best witness, the body. If a scenario does not match the injuries the victim sustained, then it’s wrong, so we start at the source and work our way out in an enlarging spiral. Dr. Entwistle’s extensive background and training in trauma surgery make it likely that she’s seen these injuries before a fatality occurred and understands the mechanism required both before and after death — a more comprehensive picture than a pathologist can give you. She was the real deal, “lifey-deathy” surgeon, for military and civilians, and will review medical records with the precision required in the operating room. Her certification as a medicolegal death investigator enables her to evaluate not just postmortem injuries but the process by which the death investigation was done. Ms. Turpen, a DNA Scientist and Evidence Analyst, will look at all the evidence collected and see avenues for further exploration.  


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Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, Police, and Forensic students. This hybrid course looks at death investigation from a combined perspective of law enforcement and medicolegal death investigations.

MLDI online Academy is a Nationally Accredited online training designed to teach all aspects of death investigation and scene management. Unlike any other coroner training today,  this course offers a blended learning style combining online self-paced video training, along with opportunities for live interaction with instructors several times throughout the program, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.

Cops and Writers Sgt. Patrick O’Donnel ep 223

Looking to add an authentic edge to your crime fiction? Ride along with a real-life sergeant to give your story the accuracy your readers crave.

Looking to add an authentic edge to your crime fiction? Ride along with me, a real-life sergeant to give your story the accuracy your readers crave. 

My name is Patrick O’Donnell, and I’ve been with a large metropolitan police department for the last twenty-four years, seventeen of those as a street sergeant. That means I’ve been a supervisor on the street for the bulk of my career. The city I work in has a population of about 600,000 people who are policed by about 1,800 sworn members, give or take a few hundred.

I’m also an author of fiction and non-fiction books. I do understand the unique author point of view and can see through your writer’s eyes.

Ride along with me, Sergeant O’Donnell for the law enforcement details that will give your story street cred.

Are you a civilian crime writer who wants to use picture-perfect law enforcement details? Do you worry that your mystery novel or screenplay lacks credibility? Fiction and nonfiction author Sergeant Patrick O’Donnell has seen it all in his 24 years working for one of the largest police departments in the country. Now he’s here to help your writing honor the men and women who risk their lives in the line of duty.

Cops and Writers: From the Academy to the Street is your in-depth field guide for navigating the path from new recruit to seasoned patrol officer. Through O’Donnell’s accounts, you’ll get up close and personal with day-to-day challenges and out-of-the-ordinary emergencies including homicides, hostage situations, and bomb threats. Armed with this invaluable resource for decoding police jargon, tactics, and standard-issue gear, you’ll be well equipped to breathe new life into your stories.In Cops and Writers, you’ll discover: Stories from O’Donnell’s years on the force to help give your book credibility How the academy and field training shapes rookies so you can mold convincing characters Patrol officers’ daily routines and working conditions to infuse your fiction with added depth Different techniques for arresting and defending against criminal threats to bring readers even closer to the action Different patrol units such as SWAT, K-9, Air Support, and Bomb Squad to add another layer of realism, and much, much more!

Cops and Writers is your all-in-one reference guide for giving your novel or screenplay much-needed street cred. If you like candid stories told with cop humor, technical details, and peering into the minds of those who serve and protect, then you’ll love Sergeant Patrick O’Donnell’s must-have handbook for crime fiction writers.

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Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, Police, and Forensic students. This hybrid course looks at death investigation from a combined perspective of law enforcement and medicolegal death investigations.

MLDI online Academy is a Nationally Accredited online training designed to teach all aspects of death investigation and scene management. Unlike any other coroner training today,  this course offers a blended learning style combining online self-paced video training, along with opportunities for live interaction with instructors several times throughout the program, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.

Is your job causing burnout? ep222

The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability.

More simply put, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.

Signs and Symptoms

While burnout isn’t a diagnosable psychological disorder, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:

  • Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.
  • Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches or intestinal issues.
  • Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack energy to get their work done.
  • Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone’s main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.

It shares some similar symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression. Individuals with depression experience negative feelings and thoughts about all aspects of life, not just at work. Depression symptoms may also include a loss of interest in things, feelings of hopelessness, cognitive and physical symptoms as well as thoughts of suicide.

Individuals experiencing burnout may be at a higher risk of developing depression.

Risk Factors

A high-stress job doesn’t always lead to burnout. If stress is managed well, there may not be any ill-effects.

But some individuals (and those in certain occupations) are at a higher risk than others.

The 2019 National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report found that 44 percent of physicians experience burnout.

Their heavy workloads place individuals with certain personality characteristics and lifestyle features at a higher risk of burnout.

Of course, it’s not just physicians who are burning out. Workers in every industry at every level are at potential risk. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:

  1. Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, such as paramedics and firefighters, are at a higher risk of burnout.
  2. Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
  3. Lack of role clarity. Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
  4. Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
  5. Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.

Prevention and Treatment

Although the term “burnout” suggests it may be a permanent condition, it’s reversible. An individual who is feeling burned out may need to make some changes to their work environment.

Approaching the human resource department about problems in the workplace or talking to a supervisor about the issues could be helpful if they are invested in creating a healthier work environment.

In some cases, a change in position or a new job altogether may be necessary to put an end to burnout.

It can also be helpful to develop clear strategies that help you manage your stress. Self-care strategies, like eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercises, and engaging in healthy sleep habits may help reduce some of the effects of a high-stress job.

A vacation may offer you some temporary relief too, but a week away from the office won’t be enough to help you beat burnout. Regularly scheduled breaks from work, along with daily renewal exercises, can be key to helping you combat burnout.

If you are experiencing burnout and you’re having difficulty finding your way out, or you suspect that you may also have a mental health condition such as depression, seek professional treatment.


Episode Guest

Professional 1

Phyllis Ginsberg, M.A., MFT

(925) 899-1603

Author of Tired and Hungry No More – Not Your Ordinary Guide to Reclaiming Your Health & Happiness and Brain Makeover – A Weekly Guide to a Happier, Healthier & More Abundant Life. (Both books are available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.)

Website:phyllisginsberg.com

EFT Tapping

If you aren’t familiar with EFT Tapping, it stands for Emotional Freedom Technique and is part of Energy Psychology. It’s highly successful in freeing stored emotions and rewiring the brain!

By tapping on Chinese Meridian Points and saying phrases it’s possible to eliminate fears, phobias, and traumas. Research has shown that by doing EFT Tapping, it calms the part of the brain that signals stress hormones to be released in the body. I’ve been using tapping since I learned about it over 20 years ago when it was being perfected for mental health professionals. I personally knew the pioneer of tapping, Dr. Roger Callahan.

Watch Video and Learn More at: https://www.phyllisginsberg.com/tapping-with-phyllis

Tactical Reload -Leadership ep221

Mindset Shift for the Next Generation of Law Enforcement Leaders


Tactical Reload offers a road map for police and MDI professionals eager to succeed as America transitions from unrest to a new age of social enlightenment.

Through honest personal stories and interviews with top police chiefs and thought leaders, Wilson thoroughly explores the present crisis of law enforcement and foreshadow a safer future.

  • Embrace “Embarrassment School” as an important rite of passage
  • Respect people who commit crimes as a humane strategy for building trust
  • Reject Millennial entitlement and impatience or jeopardize rank promotions
  • Win department and community accolades by behaving well in or out of uniform
  • Discover why authentic cops don’t need to prove they are tough, but they had better heed mental fitness advice from a retired Navy Seal
  • Learn how mandatory psychological tests for cops could remove the shame of vulnerability and decrease suicides
  • Build character and improve advancement by blending new academic credentials with street smarts

Show Guest:

Adam Wilson is a highly decorated 14-year law enforcement veteran. He was recognized in 2018 by the National Association of Police Organizations that sponsors the annual TOP COP awards for his handling of a human trafficking investigation in North Carolina.

Sgt. Wilson has served as a SWAT senior operator and is trained to carry out specialized, military-style tactics in confrontations with violent criminals. He also collaborated with federal authorities in cases involving public corruption, sexual exploitation of minors and corrupt organizations. Concurrently, he served in a street crime unit that safeguarded against illegal guns, Gangs, and drugs.

Adam has received five commendations for outstanding service and is a two-time winner of an Exceptional Service award. He earned his master’s in Criminal Justice, is an E.A. Morris Fellow for Emerging Leaders in North Carolina and was appointed to the state Human Relations Commission by former Governor Pat McCrory.


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Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, Police, and Forensic students. This hybrid course looks at death investigation from a combined perspective of law enforcement and medicolegal death investigations.

MLDI online Academy is a Nationally Accredited online training designed to teach all aspects of death investigation and scene management. Unlike any other coroner training today,  this course offers a blended learning style combining online self-paced video training, along with opportunities for live interaction with instructors several times throughout the program, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.

Dream Job – a student success story ep220

Amanda Beasler was a hard-working emergency management professional employed by the state of Wisconsin. Her dream was to be a Medicolegal Death Investigator and like many others could not get her foot in the door.  Although there is a loose connection between her “day job” and her dream job, she was not a boots on the ground investigators, or really anything to do with the Medicolegal Investigative process.  

Amanda applied for an internship with her local Medical Examiner and was turned down, she applied for a part-time position and was also turned down. The reason given in each case was she did not have any experience or education in death investigation.

Amanda understood the reason but did not expect it as the final decision. Through her persistence and determination, she started doing research on how to get the training and/or experience she would need. She reached out to connections on LinkedIn and started intense Google searches.  She knew she could not return to college for a degree and was that even necessary?

Through advice from peers and information found in her searches, she found the Death Investigation Training Academy.  After deeper research and a few phone calls to clarify some questions, she knew she had found the training she needed and enrolled in the next online Academy session.

In this episode of the podcast I speak to Amanda who tells her story in more detail and breaks down how the Online Academy course and subsequent Certification exam gave her the training and proof of knowledge she needed to land her part-time investigator position with her local Medical Examiner.

We will talk about what’s good with the course and what she feels could use some improvement.  We talk very candidly and unscripted about the course, the process, and the exam. 

If you are looking to enter the field of death investigation or need to have some good refreshers this course is what you are looking for.  Learn more at the Academy web site. 

https://deathinvestigation.com

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Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, Police, and Forensic students. This hybrid course looks at death investigation from a combined perspective of law enforcement and medicolegal death investigations.

MLDI online Academy is a Nationally Accredited online training designed to teach all aspects of death investigation and scene management. Unlike any other coroner training today,  this course offers a blended learning style combining online self-paced video training, along with opportunities for live interaction with instructors several times throughout the program, and a unique private Facebook group open only to students of Coroner School™ where everyone can interact and ask questions.

MLDI online Academy is a six-week guided course with certified instructors. However, at the end of the six weeks, you still have access to all videos, downloadable material, and the private Facebook group. You can return to the online school anytime to finish up the courses or as a refresher in certain topic areas.


Medicolegal Death Investigation Scene Kit

This exclusive first of its kind Medicolegal Death Investigation (MLDI) kit contains all the items you need to document and collect evidence from the most important piece of evidence at any death scene – The Body. Designed for Coroners, Medical Examiner Investigators, and anyone responsible to investigate and process a death.

This kit is equipped to collect fragile evidence such as DNA and fibers, take post-mortem temperatures, document the scene through photography and sketching, as well as properly collect transport, and store material evidence.

This MLDI Kit can be used in large agencies for multiple MDI’s or one single kit for smaller agencies. Packaged in a sturdy Pelican carry case with custom dividers and a pocketed pouch system. Built strong to withstand the demands from scene to scene.

Click HERE for more information


The Death Investigation Training Academy was founded to play an integral role in the death investigation community.  The need for quality accredited training is in short supply and high demand. Using a combination of classroom training, live on site scenario exercises,  and web-based training, the Death Investigation Training Academy is filling the need of 21st-century investigators.

10 Mistakes at Death Scenes ep219

Due to the very nature of sudden and/or violent deaths, many things can and do go wrong in the first few hours after discovery.  Death scenes have a way of bringing together many individuals with various responsibilities and experience.  This unique group can consist of uniformed officers, detectives, crime scene investigators, forensic experts, coroner investigators, medical examiner investigators, as well as prosecutors and police administrative staff.  

These scenes may also have fire and EMS staff or other agencies trying to do their jobs, not to mention families and onlookers.  Because of this often chaotic scene, errors can happen. Let’s look at the ten most common mistakes of a death investigation.

1. Improper Response and Arrival to the Scene

First, responding officers may not correctly respond to and secure the scene and the immediate surrounding area.  Uniformed officers may not stop or detain people leaving or milling around the scene. Further, while waiting for investigation and CSI teams to arrive, it’s not uncommon for first responding officers to gather to close to, or directly in the crime scene, inadvertently contaminating evidence.

Here are a few other examples of errors from first responding officers. Failure to notify investigators soon enough, or at all; assuming the cause of death is a suicide or is natural, eliminating the need to treat the scene as a crime scene; failure to detain all persons present at the scene, which might include the suspect; or they may fail to separate possible witnesses and obtain initial statements.  Also, failing to make an initial determination of the scene boundaries leads to an insufficient area of protection.

2. Failing to protect the Crime Scene

In all death investigations, but even more so in a homicide investigation, crime scene contamination can be and is a significant problem.  No other aspect of these investigations is more open to mistakes than the preservation and protection of the scene and subsequent evidence.

Paramount to any investigation is ensuring by the first officers on the scene to isolate, protect and maintain scene integrity as the investigation follows its standard path.  This includes the monitoring of paramedics and EMS personnel in the scene as well as identifying them for a future interview.  Officers must also watch family members or others in the area to ensure they are not contaminating the scene.  After a perimeter is established and is locked down, officers should start a log of everyone entering and leaving the vicinity and the reason why they are there.  Also, officers should be observing and taking notes of activities occurring in and around the scene.

3. Not Handling Suspicious Deaths and Homicides

All unattended death should be looked at and treated as suspicious, and an experienced officer/investigator should go to the scene.  These deaths should be treated as homicides and crime scenes until the facts prove otherwise.  Too many departments allow untrained patrol officers to conduct basic death investigation with the assumption of suicide or natural death and with the idea that it is unlikely to be a homicide.  Without training, officers could likely miss-interpret a staged or altered scene.

If the scene is not handled correctly from the beginning and is later found to be a homicide, valuable evidence can be lost, and the integrity of the scene is compromised at best and at worst, non-existent.

4. Responding with a Preconceived Notion

It is imperative that investigators not allow themselves to respond to a death scene with any preconceived conclusion about the case. It’s common for investigators to get sent to a scene and given information based on the initial call.  If the call came in as a suicide and the initial officer who responds arrives with the mindset of suicide, it is common to treat the death as a suicide and thus shortcut any other investigation.  It looks like a suicide, so it must be a suicide, and no other investigation is conducted.   

This type of preconceived investigation results in fewer photographs being taken, witness statements not being completed, evidence not being searched for or collected, and the integrity of the scene is destroyed.

It’s not only suicide this can happen on, but reported natural deaths and accidents can also inadvertently be short cut if responding officers conclude their investigation based upon the initial reported call.  If then, at a later time, the death becomes suspicious, the officer’s reports and any investigative documentation will be lacking valuable information needed for future investigations.  The tendency is for the uniformed officer to write the final report and collect the evidence necessary to fit the narrative given to him by the initial call.  

5. Failing to Take Sufficient Photographs

In today’s world of digital photography, photos are cheap and easy to obtain. Back when I started in this business, we used Polaroid™ instant photography and 35mm film cameras.  These were expensive, and some departments wanted to limit “unnecessary” photographs in an attempt to stretch the budget. That’s not the case today since hundreds of photographs can be taken and stored nearly free of charge.

Photos are a way to document the scene and to freeze that scene in time. They are used in court when necessary and may prove or disprove a fact in question.  Therefore, it is vital that photographs be taken of the entire scene, area, and location where the crime took place, including any sites connected to the original crime. Remember, you only get one chance at your first chance to document a scene.

6. Failing to Manage the Crime Scene Process

The investigator in charge should oversee the investigation and scene documentation. He or she should ensure proper chain of custody and documentation of evidence. They are in charge of maintaining scene integrity. Never allow officers to use the restroom within the residence, or take food or drink from the kitchen. Never allow smoking in the investigative area, never bring food or drink into the scene from an outside source, and always keep non-essential personnel out of the scene area. Designate an area for them to congregate if needed, but it should never be inside your primary scene area.

Lead investigators must also direct crime scene personnel on where and what they are to collect. Many CSI staff are well trained and have a good idea of what needs to be done. However, since each scene is unique, the investigator in charge must ensure evidence is adequately searched for and collected.

The victim’s body should always be inspected and searched for trace evidence prior to being moved or taken from the scene. Not doing so can result in loss of valuable evidence and leave many unanswered questions. 

Also, and I cannot stress this enough, do not allow anyone to cover the body with anything found at or near the scene!  I’ve arrived on death scenes to find victims covered with blankets officers found on beds, sheets from nearby laundry baskets or coats covering victims’ faces to preserve their dignity.   If the body is found outdoors, barriers should be used.  Using anything to “add” to and subsequently alter the initial crime scene is always harmful to the investigation. Don’t do it and don’t allow it.

Always stop and look around the scene; look up as much as around. See what is missing or what isn’t.  What looks right about the scene, and what looks wrong?  Is what you are seeing matching what you are being told?   Never leave a scene until you are confident every answer to any question you may have has been answered or documented. Remember, this is your only first chance.

7. Failing to Evaluate Victimology

Victimology is the collection and assessment of any significant information as it pertains to the victim and his or her lifestyle. It is imperative that investigators know the victim and that they complete a victimology study. You cannot properly investigate a death without victimology.  Failing to have a complete picture of the victim will preclude you from developing motives, suspects, and risk factors unique to the victim. These risk factors are usually regarded as high, moderate, or low and based on lifestyle, living conditions, job skills, neighborhood, or anything specific to the victim.

 This information includes areas such as personality, employment, education, friends, habits, hobbies, marital status, relationships, dating history, sexuality, reputation, criminal record, drug and/or alcohol use, and physical condition as well as facts about the area they grew up in and if different, the one they resided in at the time of their death.

Ultimately you need to find out, in great detail, who the victim was and what was going on at the time of their death. The best source of information will be friends, family, employers, and neighbors. Your goal is to get to know the victim even better than they knew themselves.

8. Failing to Conduct and Efficient Area Canvass Properly

First, understand the terms “area canvass” and “neighborhood canvass” may be used interchangeably.  They are interviews conducted in the field, as opposed to statements taken on the scene or in the station. I will admit that conducting an area canvass can be tedious and very time-consuming. Sometimes, hundreds of contacts can be made without unveiling one shred of usable information. However, it is that one exhilarating jewel that is occasionally discovered that makes the process so rewarding.

 There are right and wrong ways to conduct an area canvass that will yield better results for the efforts put out.

 Ideally, patrol personnel and plainclothes detectives should perform separate canvasses.  Some individuals respond more readily to an authority figure in a uniform, while others prefer the anonymity of the detective’s plain clothes.  Since it is impossible to know who will respond more willingly to either approach, both should be employed.  This technique will give the investigator the greatest chance of getting vital information. 

 The canvass may be conducted in an area near the crime scene or, conceivably, hundreds of miles away from it.  In the aftermath of a bank robbery, for example, the getaway vehicle may be located several counties, or even states, away.  Two canvasses should, therefore, be undertaken: one at the original crime scene (the bank) and one at the secondary scene (the vehicle).  If a suspect is developed, it may be advisable to perform an additional area canvass in the neighborhood where that person resides to learn about his/her reputation and habits.  A complex case may require that a number of area canvasses are completed at various locations.

 The primary goal of a neighborhood canvass is, of course, to locate a witness to the crime. It is this promise of the elusive witness that motivates the investigator. However, it is not only the “eye” witness you seek.  On occasion, it may be just as significant to discover an “ear witness.”  Someone who may have heard a threatening remark heard gunshots or even heard how and in which direction the perpetrator fled.

This information can point the case in the right direction.  A witness who hears a homicide subject flee in a vehicle with a loud muffler, for example, could be furnishing a valuable lead.  Likewise, intimidating or threatening statements the witness may have overheard could refute a subsequent claim of self-defense.  In an officer-involved shooting incident, a witness who hears the officer yell “stop, police!” or “drop the gun!” is invaluable to the investigation.   Just as crucial as the eye-witness or the ear-witness is the “witness-who-knows-a-witness.”  Even though this person may not have first-hand knowledge of the crime, he or she can direct investigators to a person who does and is, therefore, of great value.

9. Failing to Work Together as a Team

As with any crime scene, cooperation is critical among differing agencies. But with a death scene, this cooperation is ever more important and ever more strained.  Due to the increased severity of the scene, the spotlight, and egos, these scenes can become a disaster quickly. Therefore teamwork is vital, and it is the lead investigators role to set a tone of cooperation and teamwork. 

One of the most significant issues in a major case is the failure to communicate information to those working the case. Some agencies seem to want to keep what they know to themselves. This primarily occurs from egos and “turf wars,” which will compromise an effective outcome.  Everyone involved in the investigation has information gathered from the jobs they were assigned and a lack of communication or an unwillingness to share information discovered for evaluation can prevent the entire team from finding the truth and bringing the case to a conclusion.  It’s imperative to remember that the cases you work aren’t about you, but are for the victim, the family and, at times the protection of society.

A baseball game is won when everyone playing does his or her job and supports every other player in getting their job done. Imagine the bottom of the 9th, the game is tied and the next ball’s hit to the pitcher who misses but scoops it up, sits down, and refuses to throw or let anyone else take the baseball from them.  The pitcher did their job and pitched, but the refusal to share the “scoop” with their teammates resulted in a complete failure for everyone.

10. Command and Administrative Staff Interfering

One of the most frustrating mistakes at a death scene investigation is when command staff show up on the scene with their own agendas which have nothing to do with the actual investigation. Sometimes it’s for political appearance or simple curiosity. But unless they are an actual part of the investigative team, they should not insert themselves into the investigation.

In many instances, because they’re at the scene, command ranking personnel feel the need to direct the investigation. Consequently, they will have investigators running in different directions which have nothing to do with the primary investigation. The result is the loss of cohesive and central command and major miscommunication. Many times, in these situations no one is willing to step up, make decisions and take control for fear of making the boss mad. The chaos continues and the investigation is compromised, and when the outcome is delayed or not favorable, the command personnel directly responsible for the chaos will not see that they were the cause, but rather, the blame may fall on the lead investigator.

Conclusion

Death investigations are not always simple step by step cutouts. They require real attention and specific actions to protect the investigation integrity. Many of the mistakes mentioned here are from shortcutting and not taking seriously the gravity of the scene you are working.  Our job as death investigators, regardless of what function that is, is to get the truth for the victim and bring justice to anyone responsible for their death, if in fact, anyone is responsible.  Developing and following strict procedures at every death scene will ensure that investigations are worked properly, and evidence is not missed. 

Reference: Vernon J. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation Fifth Edition, (CRC Press 2015)

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