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Lack of funding for coroner training

Arkansas county coroners say a lack of funding is hindering their ability to do their job.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Arkansas county coroners say a lack of funding is hindering their ability to do their job. Statewide, money to train coroners is down and that could impact how law enforcement solves death investigations.

Hot Spring County Coroner since 1980, Ernie Cox doesn't have a morgue, or even an office to work out of. When he first started, he didn't even have the formal training to do the job. "I'm one of the founding members of the Coroner's Association."

Now, the State Crime Lab provides some training for coroners with funding from federal grants, but Ernie Cox says it's still not adequate for the training needed.

Law enforcement relies on county coroners to determine cause of death, an element crucial to cases. Lt. Carl Minden with the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office says coroners are an integral part of the process. "If we're on the same page with them, then the investigation is going to go smoothly, and there's less chance for mistakes."

While Pulaski County receives the bulk of state funding, other counties are struggling to operate. Pulaski County Coroner Gerone Hobbs says he's worried about his fellow colleagues. "Their budget isn't as big as ours. I worry they don't have the education, and if something goes wrong in an investigation, if it's the coroners mistake, then it looks bad on all the coroners."

Hobbs worries without future funding for training, the next generation will be unprepared and severely lacking to assist law enforcement. Lt. Minden says it's important everyone is trained the same. "You want consistent practices when cases go to trial so the defense can't say well this is not the best training, or this is not the way it's supposed to be done."

Currently several county coroners are working on creating child death review teams, where coroners across the state and other agencies can work together to pool knowledge and resources and function as a team.

Regardless of lack of funding for training, interest in becoming a coroner has not dropped. Coroners say, unfortunately, their pay and resources are not enough for many coroners to do the job exclusively. Many have side jobs to supplement their income.
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