The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office is doing a good job operating and maintaining the new coroner’s facility since it moved to a new location in August 2012, a recently released grand jury report said.
However, the forensic crime lab housed at the main campus on Kansas Avenue is small and overcrowded, and efficiency may be improved by also moving to a new and larger location, the jury found.
In investigating the Sheriff’s Office’s crime lab and coroner’s facility, grand jurors toured both facilities in December, escorted by detectives and administrative staff, and conducted interviews with Sheriff Ian Parkinson.
In the report, released March 27, titled “Forensic Investigations in San Luis Obispo County: The SLO County Crime Lab, the SLO County Coroner’s Office,” the grand jury noted that the new coroner’s office and morgue on the 800 block of Aerovista Place in San Luis Obispo remains financially efficient close to two years since the move.
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Prior to August 2012, the county leased facilities in a private mortuary in Los Osos, contracting with a private Central Valley pathologist to conduct autopsies.
Operating costs such as rent and cleaning for the new facility are equal to what the county historically paid to contract out services.
The new 2,600-square-foot consolidated coroner’s office includes an administrative office, a cooler, an autopsy room, an evidence room housing an evidence dryer and refrigerator-heater, a sexual investigation room and a forensic investigation room, as well as a viewing room.
“Locating all facilities that support the coroner in one location appears to have resulted in more efficient procedures,” the report reads.
According to state law, all deaths occurring outside of a hospital and all cases involving homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, suspicious deaths, and any case involving the death of people under the age of 18 must be investigated by the coroner’s office.
In 2013, the coroner’s office had 1,385 reportable deaths throughout the county and responded to 602 cases, a nine percent increase from the previous year. Of those cases, 254 required an investigation, and 165 required an autopsy.
The grand jury’s assessment of the Sheriff’s Office’s forensic crime lab, however, was not as glowing. Jurors found the lab—which includes a fingerprint and fiber analysis lab, a trace and imaging lab, and a chemical and toxicology lab—is located in a building that houses other sheriff’s offices and is very tight on space.
The jury noted that minor changes in layout to add a new lab increased overcrowding and suggested that expanding the lab or moving to an altogether new location would enhance productivity.
The new Driving Under the Influence Lab is still being installed, according to the report. DUI testing currently is outsourced and results can take three weeks. The inhouse lab could cut that time to less than a week.
The Sheriff’s Office is scheduled to present a response to the report to the county board of supervisors on Tuesday. Grand jury recommendations are not binding and the county is not required by law to follow them.