The West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center (WTRFC) is hosting information and training sessions with investigators from local law enforcement agencies as part of a new effort to strengthen relationships with area entities that handle death cases.
Detectives from the Bartlett, Collierville and Millington Police Departments are meeting with administrators and staff from the WTRFC today to talk about procedures and practices to improve efficiency in death investigations, said Sean Lester, director of investigations for the WTRFC. A similar session was held last month with investigators from the Germantown Police Department, and investigative squads from other law enforcement entities will be invited to the WTRFC in the future.
“Strengthening our relationships with the agencies we work hand in hand with daily ultimately helps us better serve the public at large,” Lester said. He said the sessions allow WTRFC staff and law enforcement personnel to talk about best practices in death investigations, specific types of cases, evidence collection and processing, steps for working with family members, and other protocols.
Managed by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) since July 1, 2014, the WTRFC houses the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s Office, which oversees medicolegal death investigation services for 20 counties west of the Tennessee River.
“Each death investigation performed by the WTRFC involves multiple agencies in our communities, including law enforcement,” said Karen Chancellor, MD, chief medical examiner for Shelby County and a professor of pathology at UTHSC. “We are looking forward to training sessions with each police department. These meetings are part of our education outreach to all of the agencies we work with, and allow us to learn from each other.”
Charles Handorf, MD, PhD, administrative director of the WTRFC and a professor of pathology at UTHSC, said the sessions are part of an effort to continue to improve operations of the facility and increase community awareness of the services it provides. “We’re doing a lot more of this kind of outreach than has been previously done,” he said. “We’re an important community resource, and we serve the people of Tennessee. So it’s important for the people of Tennessee to understand how we work, and to know what happens here. This is just one step in expanding our educational outreach.”
Germantown Police Lieutenant Jack Antonuk said the three-hour meeting with his team last month was an excellent opportunity to open lines of communication. “I’m glad that the medical examiner’s office is working with UT Health Science Center, and it looks like they are now expanding the program and reaching out into the community to provide the best service they can,” he said.
“Right now, we’re talking to law enforcement and the legal community,” Dr. Handorf said. “We would envision that we would be making programs available to a wider audience, probably not on-site, but having the ability to do presentations and help people in the community ask questions and know more about the center.”
Located at 637 Poplar, the WTRFC was reaccredited in April by the National Association of Medical Examiners, the premier organization of physician medical examiners, coroners, medical death investigators and medicolegal system administrators in the United States.