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50%. That's like HALF!

Temperance Brennan is truly a genius and Seeley Booth is no slouch either. Once again I have watched these two solve an intricate crime in just under 46 minutes (commercials not included). From crime scene to the lab, DNA results and boiling the flesh off the bones, this dynamic duo accomplishes more in ten minutes than most accomplish in a week!

Unfortunately that is not real life.

You don’t get DNA results in the time it takes to sell a new deodorant for every part of your body.

Back in 2020 at the height of COVID-19, temporary morgues were set up and refrigerated trucks were being used to house bodies. It was no wonder that the number of unsolved murders plummeted during the pandemic. Resources were low, lab techs were overwhelmed and there was too many autopsies for the coroners. Even funeral homes could not keep up.

The problem is that two years later cities like Baltimore were still behind. In early 2022 at least 200 bodies from the medical examiners office sat in refrigerated trucks parked in a parking garage for weeks. There was no other place to put them and the gruesome situation was all because there was not enough forensic pathologists.

There were so few forensic pathologists in the city—medical doctors who perform autopsies to examine sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths—that autopsies were backlogged. Bodies couldn’t be examined, and laid to rest, as quickly as they usually were.

According to Dr. ​​Victor Weedn, the chief medical examiner in Maryland at the time, turnover in the profession had reached about 70% in 2021 and was only getting worse. COVID-19 didn’t help, and neither did the fact that homicides in Baltimore reached a 50-year all time high in January of that year. The staff was underfunded and underpaid forcing employees to simply go look for better jobs.

Weedn himself resigned just a short while after giving the interview pursuing a more lucrative position.

We are not picking on Baltimore but rather using them as the example. There is roughly only 750 forensic pathologists working full-time in the United States but the National Association of Medical Examiners says about 1500 are needed to carry the current case load in the U.S.

A growing number of drug overdose deaths, rising violent crime and the COVID-19 pandemic have all demanded more from this small specialty workforce. One 2019 survey found that 37% of forensic pathologists do more than 250 autopsies a year, which is the maximum number the association recommends they complete. Forensic pathologists say the increased workload can compound the stress of working in a field where they must constantly face the risk of trauma, which can lead to burnout and early retirement.

As in any professional practice, overloaded specialists tend to miss details and make mistakes which only compounds the problem. The long-term effects of this shortage of pathologists could result in skewed numbers regarding overdoses, unsolved crimes, missed details or clues, wrong C.O.D. determinations and more.

Another side effect of this shortage is the emotional and psychological toll on the families of the victims as they wait for extended periods of time for closure, cause of death and even release to allow for memorial services and funerals.

Law enforcement, specifically homicide investigators are being held at a standstill in many cases across the country as they wait for collected evidence to become examined evidence all while the subject gets farther and farther away and the case grows colder and colder.

The shortage has forced some forensic pathologists to alter their practices, with some offices taking longer than the recommended 60 to 90 days for returning autopsy results and some offices have also begun to forego autopsies in cases where the decedent appears to have succumbed to a drug overdose. Such shortcuts raise the risk of important information being missed—for instance, whether a person died of a genetic anomaly after ingesting drugs or if the drug is a new synthetic hitting the streets that could kill thousands.

Thomas Hargrove, founder of the Murder Accountability Project suggested this past Monday on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” that the reason for the low clearance rate is simple: there aren’t enough people to solve them.

Hargrove stated that there simply is not enough resources to investigate major crimes any longer.

Demographics and our current state of economic-social-psychological climate change is not helping matters. Q recent analysis of the FBI data published in 2022 found that murders of white victims were about 30% more likely to be solved than in cases with Hispanic victims, and about 50% more than when the victims were Black. The disconnect in many cities is proving to be a great hindrance to crime solving, evidence collection and intelligence gathering.

Rising crime rates have become a central focus in major metropolitan areas including New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago. The U.S. murder rate jumped from 2019 to 2020, some of which experts attribute to a variety of reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic such as many cities are still paying out on COVID management and response so funds are at an all-time low.

For homicide detectives, 2020 brought good news and bad news. On the one hand, police across the nation solved more murders — in absolute numbers — than in any year since 1997, according to data reported to the FBI. On the other hand, because new homicides increased sharply, the reported rate at which killings were solved, known as the “clearance rate,” declined to a little below 50%.

Folks, I am no math wiz but that is like HALF.

The lower clearance rate in 2020 was an extension of a long, steady drop since the early 1980s, when police cleared about 70% of all homicides. From 2019 to 2020, police across the country solved 1,200 more murders, a 14% increase. But murders rose twice as quickly — by 30%. As a result, the homicide clearance rate — the percentage of crimes cleared — dropped to a historic low. About 1 of every 2 murders was solved.

So what is the long-term effect for law enforcement? Low or declining clearance rates often lead to increased political or community pressure, pressure on police leadership and calls for the removal of top officers along with defunding.

Presently, our Violent Crime Clearance Rate for murder steps up to . Clearance rates for manslaughter stand at 69% and rape comes in at 30%.

So why are we at 50%? A deteriorating system amidst an explosion of technology has caused an implosion within the law enforcement and forensic universe.

First of all, medical students are not being recruited for positions such as forensic examiner. It is a hard sell to convince a young college student that playing with dead bodies all day alone in the morgue is better than traipsing up and down hallways filled with other professionals and peers. Let’s face it, working in the morgue is not sexy and surveys are showing there is little interest on the part of the young people we desperately need.

Many experts attribute some of this low close rate to law enforcement being stretched too thin by civil unrest issues, the pandemic, special events and other reasons stemming from our current state of affairs in the country. This reasoning makes sense in light of the situation in light of what happened at the border the last several years where “patrol” agents” are prevented from reaching the field due to so much paperwork regarding illegal immigrants.

With ALL that is happening coast to coast, it is no wonder we are experiencing low clearance rates. Now couple that with only having half the examiners and you can see why the clearance numbers are dropping so drastically.

Nationwide, the problem is still far from solved. Even if more students pursue the career, the shrinking workforce of both doctors and forensic pathologists means there just won’t be enough people to fill the need and in the long term it will be important to use new techniques, like investing in new technologies and hiring more assistants trained to help in tasks like autopsies.

My good friend Antonio Cugini over at FoxFury Lighting Solutions (Linkedin) has been working for years to create new tools for the forensic market and has spent much of the last two years networking with strategic partners to assist the forensic and investigative community in acquiring evidence more in the field and performing more testing in the field thus alleviating some of the lab’s burden and speeding up the investigative process.

Will this fix the entire problem? Of course not, but Cugini is a good example of how we can at least begin to rectify the situation. Networking mixed with the right technology can do wonders. Years ago Cugini began to network early-adopters of drones and provided for himself a front row seat to the beginning of accident reconstruction by unmanned aerial craft.

Cugini’s working theory is that if techs in the field had more capability, overall results and conclusions would come quicker for investigators. So far, he has been right. The solution will never come internally within the discipline. We are already at 50% (which is like gasping for air). The solutions need to come from brilliant minds that are not tethered to old school thinking and political agendas.

Cugini is just one example of what we need; people that can put together the right people and the right products to combat this present shortage of professionals and I believe this is what we are going to need in the immediate years to come as we also try to create new recruiting campaigns so that we can breathe life back into a discipline few ever consider as being so important.

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