On a Los Angeles Freeway in the pouring rain,
Inside a burned out structure,
On the side of a mountain in the Angeles National Forest,
In a pack-rat cluttered house.
These are just of few of the places where you will find personnel from the operations bureau of the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner. The operations bureau is the largest segment of the Department, consisting of the Investigations and Decedent Services sections. It is responsible for the 24 hours a day, 7 days a week operation of the Department. The operations bureau is also responsible for the disaster and community services, fleet management and other ancillary programs within the Department. The Medical Examiner's Special Operations Response Team (SORT) is also under control of the operations bureau.
Deaths that fall under the jurisdiction of the Medical Examiner are investigated by the investigations division. These deaths may require dispatching a medical examiner investigator to the scene of the death, regardless of the time or location. Investigators will interview witnesses and emergency responders, photograph the scene, follow up on leads, collect evidence, make identifications, notify next of kin, secure valuables and interface with law enforcement agencies. Investigators prepare reports that are forwarded to the medical division for use in the determination of the cause and mode of death. Investigators are frequently called in to court to provide testimony on Medical Examiner Cases. Under the California state Penal Code, all investigators are sworn peace officers. The Department of Medical Examiner is a certified agency with Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).
The Investigation Division maintains regional offices in the South Bay, Antelope Valley, and San Fernando Valley. These regional offices provide a more rapid response to the location of death in these areas due to the close proximity of the regional facility.
The Investigations Division operates the Field Response Vehicle Program. This program improves the Department's deployment ability by assigning vehicles to a designated number of investigators to provide around the clock coverage in addition to the on-duty personnel. During times of increased call volume, investigators on the Field Response Vehicle Program can respond to the location of deaths, directly from home in their assigned vehicle without having to go to the office to pick up a vehicle.
The Decedent Services section is responsible to the transportation, processing, storage and release of decedents' bodies recovered from any death scene including in public view, homes and hospitals. Decedent processing includes the weighing and measuring of bodies, the collection of personal effects, physical and medical evidence, and fingerprinting and tagging of the decedent. Bodies are maintained in refrigerated crypts to await autopsies and claiming by mortuaries or released for county disposition.
Decedent services are responsible for the day-to-day handling of decedents from pickup to release, along with their preparation for county disposition, and their preparation and transportation to the Riverside National Cemetery for unclaimed Veteran burials.
The Department’s Disaster and Community Services ensures a coordinated departmental response as one of the nine lead Los Angeles County agencies to major and minor emergencies involving fatalities that require operation of an Emergency Operation Center. Disaster services staffs field command posts, interacts with major airports, law enforcement, the State Office of Emergency Services, mutual aid from medical examiners throughout California and cities within Los Angeles County.
The Disaster and Community Services program provides planning support through participation in cities' emergency exercises and through maintaining up-to-date manuals. A plan has been developed to form a public/private emergency response partnership with local funeral and cemetery directors of a mass fatality management response system.
The Medical Examiner Special Operations Response Team (SORT) provides response in the event of any Mass Fatality Incident (MFI) or a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, or High Explosive (CBRNE) incident. SORT also responds to death investigations that require specialized search or recovery such as a clandestine grave or scattered skeletonized remains. SORT provides a prompt and sustained response which means staff have to be trained, equipped and ready "24/7." The SORT team is comprised of Medical Examiner staff members that work throughout the Department on a daily basis. The team is made up of Investigators, Forensic Attendants, Forensic Technicians, Criminalists, Deputy Medical Examiners and a Forensic Anthropologist along with support/clerical staff. The SORT team is trained up to the highest level of Hazardous Materials response, level-A. We are one of only two coroner teams in the United States with this ability; the other being in New York City. SORT’s overall mission is to provide assistance for families who have lost their loved ones.
During a disaster, families can obtain information, emotional, social support and other services through the Family Assistance Center. A Family Assistance Center will be set up at a designated location within two hours of the occurrence of a mass fatality within the County. SORT Investigators will be present at the Family Assistance Center in order to make the notification of death, and to provide the families support and needed information.