Pima County anthropologists to present innovative model at national conferenceby Pima County News on Dec. 19, 2012, under Board of Supervisors, Border, Pima County, Southern Arizona, Tucson
It is not a distinction Pima County asked for, but climate and border policy have combined to make Pima County a hub for forensic anthropology.
A creative solution devised by the County to address the regional demand will be among topics presented at a national conference early next year.
Very few medical examiners’ offices have forensic anthropologists on staff, since in most areas of the country, there aren’t enough cases involving unidentified skeletal remains to sustain them. Pima County, however, which sees well over 100 such cases a year, employs two.
In part, with stronger border enforcement closing off formerly more accessible areas elsewhere, more migrants have been funneled through the unforgiving desert. Although for the past 12 years, the office on average handles the bodies of 184 migrants annually, the numbers rose to 230 in 2010.
Chief Medical Examiner Greg Hess noted that even without border migration, Pima County has always had more skeletal remains because the hot, dry desert climate speeds decomposition.
Forensic anthropologistsBruce Andersonand Angela Soler of the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner will speak at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Washington, D.C., in February – the largest annual forensic sciences meeting.
Among the topics: The new training model being established through the office after the Pima County Board of Supervisors this fall authorized the creation of a one-year fellowship for postdoctoral forensic anthropology training.
Dr. Soler said the program is very rare, as one of only two such programs in the country, along with Harris County in Texas. She said during her presentation, she plans to highlight the importance of the training program for exposing new PhD’s to a variety of aspects of field work, from archaeological recovery to trauma analysis and biological profiles of skeletal remains.
Dr. Anderson agreed. “Because of the significant caseload, our office is in a strong position to help train the next generation of forensic anthropologists.” He also added the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner is becoming the national leader in learning more about the anatomical differences and similarities between Hispanics and non-Hispanics – particularly important given Hispanics are the fastest growing segment within the country.
The one-year fellowship position is a cost-effective way to meet the workload demanded of the office, Dr. Hess said. The temporary nature of the fellowship also ensures that staffing changes could readily be made if migration patterns change in the future and results in the reduction of the need for such work.
Dr. Hess said he anticipates a number of applicants for the position, particularly given the program’s heightened visibility at the conference.