Death Notification

Instructional Guide

The primary issues to be examined and discussed in this course are:

* basic procedures in delivering a death notification

* basic procedures in delivering a death notification of a law enforcement officer, the subsequent internment action, and the follow-up support and benefits available to the survivors

The instructor should encourage student participation in exploring and examining each of these topics and solicit relevant individual experiences that would enhance understanding. Topics for group discussions and a practical exercise are included that are designed for this purpose.

I. INTRODUCTION (5 minutes)

Self –Introduction.

NOTE:  Display overhead #1: Student Performance Objectives.

  1. identify basic procedures in delivering a death notification; and

  2. identify basic procedures in delivering a death notification of a law enforcement officer, the subsequent internment action, and the follow-up support and benefits available to the survivors.

A. OPENING STATEMENT

“Chaplain, we’ve had a fatality on I-85. It’s a local man. He was alone in the car. Can you assist with the notification of his family?”

“Chaplain, one of our officers has just been shot and killed. Would you take care of notifying the family? We’ll also need for you to handle the internment arrangements.”

B. STUDENT PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES

Distribute handout #1: Student Performance Objectives.

C. REASON

As Chaplains, when we are given the task of delivering a death notification, we are handed powerful information in the extreme. The sheer force of the message we will deliver will change someone’s life forever. We must not fear death notification, but we must regard the event with all reverence, humility, and respect.

II. BODY    (1 hour 40 minutes)

Death notification creates the maximum amount of stress on a person: impact, recoil, recovery. Grief is the pain of loss; mourning is the pain of healing.

A. Basic Procedures of Death Notification

NOTE: Display overhead transparency #2: Basic Procedures of Death Notification.

Explain to the students that a handout of the following information will be distributed at the end of this block of instruction.

The police chaplain’s role in death notification is to make sure the correct person is notified; to be as compassionate, strong and supportive as possible while giving the devastating news that a person’s whole world has just radically and drastically changed; to make sure the survivor has someone with him/her; to provide information so that when the shock wears off, the family knows where to get answers to the questions they will have.

1. Primary Considerations

  1. Notifications should always be made in person, if at all possible. Avoid making the notification alone; if an officer is not available, get a neighbor or close friend to accompany you.

  2. Ascertain as much information as possible on the victim and the family. Record the name of the deceased, age, address, marital status, manner of death, location of the body, who the family should contact for further information (coroner’s office, officer’s name assigned to the case, funeral director). To have been at the scene often is valuable in helping the family to accept the facts. Make sure all information is correct: double check everything, confirm information with the officer, formulate a plan of action (depending on what you know of this person, actions could include finding and calling their pastor or a local church member to arrive there with you, etc.)

  3. If the chaplain and the officer make the notification together, the chaplain should go in his/her own vehicle. Once the notification is made and the initial situation has calmed, the officer can resume his\her normal patrol and the chaplain can remain with the survivors until their own pastor, other family members, or special friend is present.

  4. If making a notification with an officer, decide together before approaching the home who will be the lead spokesperson. If one or the other knows the family, usually that person will take the lead.

  5. Do not park in front of the house. Do not take any of the victim’s personal items with you.

  6. Wear your uniform. The lead spokesperson should notify the person answering the door who you are. Badge and ID card should be shown, if appropriate.

  7. Upon arriving at the address given for the surviving relative, ascertain that the address is correct. Then ask for the appropriate person to notify: wife, parent, etc.

  8. Try to obtain permission to enter the home: “May we please come inside and sit down?” Have everyone be seated before breaking the news. Confirm with survivors: relationship to victim, full name of victim, DOB.

  9. Delivering the news: Usually, the relative will ask, “What’s wrong?” This leads into the time to break the news. Be direct: “Ms. Smith, I’m sorry, but there has been an accident. Was your husband in the family car tonight? (Upon confirmation, continue.) Mr. Smith was involved in an accident. I’m sorry, but he was killed.” Avoid compromising clichés: fatally injured, mortally wounded. Answer any questions only according to the known facts: do not attempt to speculate or give an opinion. That opinion could be wrong and cause more grief.

  10. Ask if the family has a pastor, priest, rabbi, or spiritual advisor. Offer to contact that person and request that he/she come to the location. Ask if there is a special friend they want to have with them at this time. Offer to call the friend. Assess the need to call for medical assistance. Help the family make a written list of who needs to be notified. List all family members by name, close friends, employer, insurance company. Mark on the list any action taken in contacting that person.

  11. The Department may require certain additional information. For example: the name of the funeral home. The choice of the funeral home is to be made by the family member – not the chaplain. If they ask for a recommendation, provide several names of appropriate funeral homes. You may also provide transportation to the morgue if identification of the body has been requested by the Department or coroner. Check with your Department’s policies regarding this possibility.

  12. When the family’s clergy and/or a friend has arrived, write down detailed instructions as to whom and how the family can get further information. Inevitably, they will have questions when the full impact of what has happened sinks in. This information should include the names and phone numbers of the officer in charge of the case, the funeral home where the body has been taken, and the coroner, if appropriate. At this point, you may leave your chaplain’s card with your name and contact information, assuring them that you will be glad to help them with any information they need.

When leaving the home, report to the Department by radio or phone that the notification was made, who was notified, and any other pertinent information.

  1. Special Circumstances

    If the surviving member is at another location other than home:

    1. At the work place: Talk to the employer and ask for a secure and private room where you will wait for the survivor. Have the employer go and get him/her. The employer is to say nothing except that there are some people here waiting with some important information for them.

    2. At someone else’s home: Speak to the host/owner first and have him/her quickly make arrangements for some privacy in a room; it may be appropriate to have the host join you when you make the notification.

    3. At a hospital: Make the notification in a private waiting room.

  2. Suicide Notification

    Help the survivors understand that they are NOT GUILTY. There is no “why” – notes are not explanations, they are messages. Suicide is the ultimate selfish act: the ultimate rejection of others, of help, of love, of us. Suicide is not a destiny, it is a choice, and the survivors did not make that choice for them. Suicide survivors have a lot of anger due to the fact that there is no explanation, and as long as they are angry, there is no grieving.

    Suicide is embarrassing to the survivors. “It’s not your fault” is what they must learn to accept, and they will believe a chaplain. Use the word suicide along with the person’s name – it can stave off denial. Defuse them – they will feel more in control, which they feel they have lost. Let them know that recovery takes time, but not forever.

(Ask the students if they have any questions.)

Procedures of Death Notification of a Law Enforcement Officer

Display overhead transparency #3: Procedures of Death Notification of a Law Enforcement Officer.

  1. On-Duty Officer’s Death

    (Ask students if they have any questions.)

    Display overhead transparency #3: On-Duty Officer’s Death.

    1. Director of Chaplaincy shall be notified immediately.

    2. It is the responsibility of the Director of Chaplaincy to designate a chaplain to respond to measures.

    3. The chaplain shall proceed to the scene.

    4. The chaplain, accompanied by a designee of the deceased officer’s commander, shall proceed to the appropriate location to make the notification.

    5. Director of Chaplaincy or his/her designated chaplain to notify the following individuals:

      1. The Honor Guard Commander for Personnel to stand by with the family at the residence.

      2. The Chief of Police to provide pertinent information.

      3. The Director of Personnel and Human Services.

      4. The Staff Officer Supervisor Commander

      5. Public Information officer to provide pertinent information.

  2. Off-Duty Officer’s Death

Director of Chaplaincy or his designee is to establish contact with the family and to offer the Department’s assistance and condolences. If the family wishes to provide a full police funeral, it shall be the responsibility of the chaplain to make the necessary contacts:

  1. Honor Guard Commander

  2. Staff Officer Supervisor Commander

  3. Chief of Police and of Department Personnel

  4. Director of Personnel and Human Services (i.e., benefits, etc.)

Ask the students, “If the family wishes to have a full police funeral,
who is responsible for making necessary notifications and arrangements for them?” Answer: The police chaplain.

(Ask students if they have any questions.)

   3. Natural Death of Officers Immediate Family Members

  1. Director of Chaplaincy to establish contact with the family to offer Department assistance and condolences.

  2. The Chaplain shall contact the following individuals:

    1. The Public Information Officer The Director of Personnel and Human Services

    2. The Fiscal Officer

Ask the students, “If the family wishes to have a full police funeral, who is responsible for making necessary notifications and arrangements for them?” Answer: The chaplain.

  4. Non-sworn personnel will not receive a police funeral. Display overhead transparency   #5: Internment Action.

  1. The Chaplain will accommodate the desires and wishes of the family to the extent allowed for in chaplaincy S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedures)

  2. The chaplain will identify all parties associated with the deceased employee to include: the survivors/family members, the family clergy, etc.

  3. The chaplain with the assistance of the Resource Officer, will assess the immediate needs of the family.

    1. transportation requirements

    2. lodging needs

    3. logistical needs of the family

    4. resolve issues or concerns detected by the Resource Officer

  4. The chaplain will work with the family and clergy to make funeral arrangements. If there is no family clergy, the chaplain will begin assisting the family in making the arrangements.

  5. The chaplain will continually coordinate the Department’s involvement in funeral proceedings with the Public Affairs Unit, the Police Club, the Honor Guard, the Staff Officer Supervisor, etc. The funeral and burial ceremonies will depend on the family’s request and the approval of the Chief of Police.

  6. Ceremonial protocol will be in accordance with the Honor Guard and S.O.P. and in keeping with the desires of the deceased employee’s family.

(Ask the students if they have any questions.)

Display overhead transparency #6: Follow-up Procedure Support and Benefits.

4. Internment Action

  1. The Chaplain will accommodate the desires and wishes of the family to the extent allowed for in chaplaincy S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedures)

  2. The chaplain will identify all parties associated with the deceased employee to include: the survivors/family members, the family clergy, etc.

  3. The chaplain with the assistance of the Resource Officer, will assess the immediate needs of the family.

    1. transportation requirements

    2. lodging needs

    3. logistical needs of the family

    4. resolve issues or concerns detected by the Resource Officer

  4. The chaplain will work with the family and clergy to make funeral arrangements. If there is no family clergy, the chaplain will begin assisting the family in making the arrangements.

  5. The chaplain will continually coordinate the Department’s involvement in funeral proceedings with the Public Affairs Unit, the Police Club, the Honor Guard, the Staff Officer Supervisor, etc. The funeral and burial ceremonies will depend on the family’s request and the approval of the Chief of Police.

  6. Ceremonial protocol will be in accordance with the Honor Guard and S.O.P. and in keeping with the desires of the deceased employee’s family.

5. Follow-up Procedure Support and Benefits

  1. C.O.P.S. (Concern of Police Survivors, Inc. 16921 Croom Road, Brandywine MD. 20163) provides support and guidelines to family members.

  2. Public Safety officers Benefit Act: US Department of Justice 1976, provides $100,000 death benefits for officers killed in the line of duty. Local FBI Field Officer will assist Departments in filing.

  3. Title 5 US Code Benefits: provides 50 – 75% of monthly salary if officer is killed enforcing a federal law.

  4. Life Insurance: carried by the Department and/or personally.

  5. Social Security and/or Veterans Administration (V.A.) benefits may have accrued from military services or prior civilian employment.

  6. Public Employees Retirement Plan

  7. The chaplain should develop resources and relationships with the family and should remember to continue to visit and address needs as they may develop.

At this time, the instructor should allow for a ten-minute break. Upon returning from break, the following practical exercise is to be conducted.

Practical Exercise: Allow approximately 35 - 45 minutes for the exercise.
The instructor will divide the class into groups of four to five. One person in each group will act as a recorder and write down answers and observations the group provides for the scenario.

The instructor will describe the following scenario:
“While sitting in his office, the chaplain receives a telephone call
from the police dispatcher advising him that Officer Jones has
just been killed in a shoot-out while participating in a road-block.
The 24-year old perpetrator escaped in a stolen vehicle. The
time of death is 10:00 PM. The body is being transported to
Grady Hospital for coroner examination.”
On a flip chart, the instructor will write the following topics of discussion:

1. What is the chaplain’s first action?

2. Who should be notified?

  1. Is there a specific order of whom should be notified?

  2. What should the chaplain do if none of the family members can speak English?

  3. What should the chaplain do if a member of the media attempts to interview him/her?

After approximately 20 -25 minutes, the instructor should then assemble the students for debriefing. Have the representative from each group provide their answers and observations for the scenario. Also, ask for any similar personal experiences from the students. Finally, ask the following questions to generate discussion:

  1. What did you learn?

  2. How did you feel about it?

  3. How can you use this information in the future?

Distribute handout #2: Procedures for Death Notification.

III. CONCLUSION (5 minutes)

  1. Summary

    During this course of instruction, we discussed the following topics:

    Basic Procedures of Death Notification Primary Considerations

    Special Circumstances (at the work place, at someone else’s home, at a hospital)

    Suicide Notification
    Procedures of Death Notification of a Law Enforcement Officer

    On-Duty Officer’s Death
    Off-Duty Officer’s Death
    Natural Death of Officers and/or Immediate Family Members

    Internment Action
    Follow-up Procedure Support and Benefits

  2. QUESTIONS