(Photo from Sean Tindell Facebook)
The Department of Public Safety added four new death investigators and contracted with independent medical examiners to play catch up on completing over 2,200 autopsy reports that built up prior to 2020. Plans are in the works to open a third examiner’s office in Oxford.
Deep in the election cycle, Associated Press reporter Michael Goldberg critiqued the performance of the State Medicaid Examiner’s office under Governor Tate Reeves and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell.
Goldberg’s article referenced 51 autopsy reports that had been pending for longer than 60 days and 45 that had been pending longer than 90 days.
But numbers like these, without proper context, can be misleading. Here’s some relevant context.
On January 1, 2020, the decade old backlog of incomplete autopsy reports at the State Medical Examiner’s office stood at 2,232. Since then, there has been a 99.64% reduction in the backlog of autopsy reports. Notably, the reduction in backlog occurred even amid a global pandemic that increased mortality rates and a spike in homicides that added considerable strain to the Medical Examiner’s office.
To achieve this reduction, the Medical Examiner’s office added 4 death investigators, a pathology assistant, and other staff to aid in conducting and completing autopsy reports. Another position was created for a director of the Medical Examiner’s office to oversee the day-to-day operations of the division, so that the medical examiners could better focus their efforts on conducting autopsies.
The department reports that contract medical examiners were also retained to work in the Pearl facility.
For 2023, there are 88 cases that are still pending after 6 months. This means that since 2020, the standing backlog has been reduced from 2,232 to 144.
“If we are successful in recruiting one more medical examiner, the standing backlog should be completely eliminated except for situations where additional evidence or delays with other forensic evidence prevents the autopsy report from being completed,” Commissioner Tindell told Magnolia Tribune.
Currently, the Medical Examiner’s Office has labs in Pearl and Biloxi and there are plans to open a third office in Oxford.
Governor Tate Reeves appointed Sean Tindell as Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in May 2020. Tindell was serving as a judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals when Reeves asked him to serve as Commissioner. Tindell previously served in the Legislature. In discussing progress at the Department of Public Safety, Tindell cites to more than the reduction in autopsy backlog.
“Over the last three years, we’ve reduced wait times at driver service stations to less than an average of 20 minutes (from over an hour), eliminated a backlog of autopsy reports dating back to 2010, instituted policies bringing greater transparency to MBI investigations, secured the largest pay raise in state history for our troopers and MBN agents, grew the Capitol Police making the city of Jackson safer, and improved our outreach to local law enforcement agencies hosting Mississippi’s first ever Public Safety Summit,” Tindell said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
According to data provided by the department upon request of Magnolia Tribune, since 2020 when Tindell took over, the Driver Service Bureau has drastically reduced wait times by instituting a “Skip the Line” campaign. In 2019, the average wait time statewide was 1 hour and 2 minutes. As of October 2023, the average wait time with an appointment was 9 minutes and without an appointment was 20 minutes.
The “Skip the Line” effort allows Mississippians to make appointments to receive and renew a driver’s license and firearm permit.
In addition, the Driver Services Bureau successfully implemented Mississippi’s Mobile ID where customers can now carry their driver’s license on their mobile device. Firearm permits can also now be renewed by mail without customers being required to submit a new fingerprint sample, further reducing the number of customers required to visit a local station.
These innovations, along with the department’s renewed emphasis on customer service and raising awareness of the online option for license renewals, has resulted in more customers being served in a shorter amount of time, the department contends.
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