The Birth of the Statewide Training Center
The concept of the Statewide Coroner’s Training Facility can be traced back to the development of the Basic Death Investigation Course. Originally conceived and developed by then Chief Deputy Coroner James Beisner in conjunction with the California State Coroners' Association, the course was offered through the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department in 1989. Prior to the establishment of this 80-hour course, death investigation training in the state of California was accomplished primarily through “on-the-job” experience, the burden of which was usually shouldered by each individual Coroner/Medical Examiner Office. Consequently there was little to no consistency in the way death investigations were taught or practiced.
Orange County has maintained a strong leadership role in the Coroner training arena since the beginning. In 1991, Sheriff Brad Gates, with the support of the California State Sheriffs and Coroners' Associations, led the way to create legislation designating $1.00 from every burial permit for Coroner training. POST was appointed as the flow-through agency responsible for distributing the funding and the Basic Death Investigation Course became a POST mandated Plan IV course. This revolutionary accomplishment not only mandated minimum training requirements for California Coroners, but it also provided reimbursement to POST approved agencies.
By 1999 the Basic Death Investigation Course had been taught to over 900 Coroner, Medical Examiner, and Homicide Investigators throughout the state, nation, the Caribbean, and Europe. Yet despite this impressive achievement, it became clear that there was a growing need to expand medicolegal death investigation training in the state as well as develop industry standards. Additionally, over its 10-year history the Basic Death Investigation Course had been taught from various hotel conference facilities which were not conducive to hands-on learning. Thus the concept of the Statewide Coroner Training Facility was conceived.
Through innovation and vision, Orange County again took the lead and presented the concept of a Statewide Coroner Training Center to Governor Gray Davis and members of the State Legislature in 2000. Recognizing the need for greater training opportunities for California Coroners, these Sacramento lawmakers allocated $10,000,000 to the County of Orange for the construction of this unique, state-of-the-art training center. The Orange County Board of Supervisors also recognized the necessity of advancing the art and science of medicolegal death investigations statewide and the prestige it would bring to the county. They supported this ongoing effort by committing an additional $5,000,000 in supplemental funding to build what is now the California Coroner Training Center. By November of 2000, plans were developed for the new 52,626 square foot facility with actual groundbreaking operations beginning in October of 2001.
The California Coroner Training Center Realized
The California Coroner Training Center opened in May 2004 with the first offering of the newly developed Mass Fatalities for Coroner Managers Course. To facilitate hands-on learning, this premiere two-story training facility was built to house the Coroner Division’s day-to-day operation on the first floor. This uniquely integrated design combining the education component with the real-world Coroner function offers students an unparalleled, experiential learning environment. The upper floor is dedicated solely to training and offers an autopsy examination observation area, multiple interchangeable scenario rooms, interactive computer access, the latest presentation technology, and classrooms designed by POST Master Instructors. Another extraordinary learning feature known as “the pit” is located in the back parking lot of the facility. It is the anthropological section that provides students and researchers a controlled environment for excavation techniques, understanding entomology issues, and studying postmortem changes (using animal remains only).
The Current State of Training in California
Since the California Coroner Training Center opened its doors in 2004, death investigation professionals from virtually every county in the state and parts of Nevada and Arizona have received first rate training from the Training Center’s cadre of elite instructors and subject matter experts. The ultimate vision of the Training Center’s leadership is to “raise the bar” in the Coroner profession by improving the caliber of investigations conducted throughout the state. Orange County is leading the way in this effort by collaborating with POST and the State Coroners' Association to establish an accreditation program and elevate standards for death investigations that will promote the necessary specialized expertise in all death investigation professionals in the state. The solid, collaborative relationship between POST, the California State Coroners' Association and the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner promises a bright and exciting future for California’s Coroner and Medical Examiner investigators through the California Coroner Training Center.