A rash of killings and a staffing shortage are creating a grisly reality for the Alameda County Coroner’s Office, as autopsies are backlogged, and families are delaying funerals because of it.
When Oakland suffered four homicides in 18 hours this week, two of the victims had just left a prayer service at the Oakland Islamic Center. Burial customs in the Islamic faith require that bodies be buried within 24 hours. But that is simply not possible right now in Alameda County, as KTVU reports the coroner’s office has a backlog of bodies, due to a combination of low staffing at the office and a string of killings in Oakland.
"The recent spike in homicides in Oakland and in our other county jurisdictions has been problematic for us," Alameda County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Lt. Ray Kelly told KTVU.
On Thursday alone, the coroner’s office had 35 autopsies pending, and (yikes) a “wait list of 90 decedents” according to KTVU. The murders are a challenge, but staffing shortages are behind the backlog too.
"One of our chief pathologists just took the job somewhere else. We've had a hard time keeping forensic pathologists here in Alameda County," Kelly added. "They can make the same amount of money in another location, have less of a caseload, spend less time in court."
Kelly estimated that there are fewer than 1,000 people in the country qualified to be a chief pathologist, and Alameda County has been flying them in from elsewhere in hopes of keeping up with the killings. But meanwhile, families are actually delaying their loved ones’ funerals simply because the coroners cannot perform autopsies quickly enough.
Related: SF Medical Examiner's Office Gets Its Accreditation Back After Going 18 Months Without a Major Scandal [SFist]