he death of a member of the police community is a sad time for the department and family of the deceased, for the residents of his or her jurisdiction, and for his or her peers at other agencies. Whether the deceased is an officer who died in the line of duty, a civilian employee, or an employee's immediate family member, the agency needs a well-thought-through procedure to provide comfort and order to all.
A carefully crafted procedure can help the department handle the details, which are numerous and delicate. This article will highlight just a few factors in planning a police funeral, and the City of Simi Valley Police Department will make available a copy of the guide to agencies upon request.
Law Enforcement Funeral Committee
Because the police family is formed by the shared experiences of officers and their loved ones, an officer's death is a harsh reminder to other officers of their own vulnerability. The impact is felt not only in the officer's department but also in neighboring agencies and in police departments across the country.
All agencies will wish to have a part in the funeral and it is possible that the local department may need the assistance of the other agencies to conduct the funeral. As such, it is ideal for neighboring jurisdictions to form a law enforcement funeral committee to establish systematic policies and procedures for conducting the funeral. Most likely this committee will arise out of an organization such as the county police chiefs' association. When a death does occur, the committee will stand ready to assist and obtain the resources needed to ensure the appropriate funeral is conducted flawlessly.
Upon confirming the facts and circumstances of the critical injury or death of an employee or members of an employee's immediate family member, the watch commander should cause appropriate agency-specific notifications to be made. The watch commander should immediately notify the agency chief executive.
On-Duty Personnel: Interest in law enforcement matters is often high, and reports of a seriously injured or dead law enforcement employee will become public quickly. Given that the identity of the involved employee will be withheld pending notification of the next of kin, it is strongly recommended that on-duty personnel be advised to interrupt their duties and contact their own families to notify them that they are not the involved party. Wherever possible, this command notification should be made coincidental with notification of the immediate family. Employees should be admonished not to release the names of any parties actually involved in an incident until officially released by the department.
Next of Kin: The notification of the next kin should be made in person by someone of equal rank to, or greater rank than, the decedent and in the company of a chaplain. The official conducting the notification should be well informed regarding the circumstances surrounding the death and should freely impart that information to the decedent's family.
Notification of the officer's immediate family must occur before the officer's name is released to the media. The most devastating and destructive oversight that can be made is failure to follow this cardinal rule.
The notifying official, or other suitable person, shall remain with the decedent's family until the arrival of a suitable assisting person so as not to leave the family unattended during this critical period. Also, whenever the health of immediate survivors is a concern, emergency medical services personnel shall be placed on standby.
After the notification, the most important consideration is to take the immediate family to the hospital. The agency head should meet with the family as soon as possible after the incident. Many members of the department will also wish to go the hospital to express their sympathy for the family, and their presence represents a tangible display of support that is very helpful to the survivors.
Additional notifications should be made to the officer's association (union) representative, all on-duty personnel, the chaplain service, the department's psychologist, and government executives and elected officials.
The notifying official should obtain the name of the department employee preferred by the family to act in their behalf as family liaison officer. The family liaison officer should act in that capacity at the behest of the incident commander, in consultation with a member of the funeral committee, and should carry that designation as a primary duty assignment until completion of the post-funeral reception.
While family notification is being performed, preparations need to be made at the hospital to receive the family members and to deal with the media. The serious injury or death of a police officer in the line of duty is a major media event, and the agency should take all the necessary steps in advance to protect the family members from unwanted media attention and intrusion of curiosity seekers.
Whenever possible, the agency's chief executive officer shall join the family at the hospital to emphasize the agency's support. To enable the chief to demonstrate this support, the next highest ranking official at the hospital should serve as or designate a hospital liaison officer who shall be responsible for coordinating the arrival of immediate survivors, departmental personnel, the media and others. This official ensures that the medical personnel provide pertinent medical information on the officer's condition to the family before any other parties.
Death and Funeral Notice
Once all appropriate notifications have been made, a death and funeral notice should be completed. This form is an official, public notification of the death of a law enforcement employee. It should be completed as soon as practicable, and as completely as possible. It is the document from which all information will be taken for press releases, Teletype messages, e-mail messages, Web site postings, and fax notifications. Having all recipients receive the same information at the same time and from the same official source is crucial to an efficient evolution of events. If there are aspects of the initial release that are unanswered (usually viewing and funeral arrangements), they can be described as "pending" and an updated notice sent out when the family makes its wishes known.
There are five basic funeral protocols. Category 1 protocol is a public event that denotes full, military-style, ceremonial honors. This category is reserved for sworn employees (including reserve officers) killed in the line of duty. No effort should be spared in the conduct of a category 1 funeral that is consistent with tradition, good taste, and the wishes of the immediate next of kin.
In the event the affected agency does not have all the specialized resources needed for the conduct of a category 1 funeral, members of the law enforcement funeral committee can be contacted for assistance and advice.
Family members should be advised that a funeral with full honors will take considerable time to properly conduct. It usually consists of a religious ceremony in accordance with the family's faith group, and a graveside ceremony that will require an extended wait for all elements, dignitaries, and attendees to be in place before it can begin.
The funeral can involve the movement of hundreds, even thousands, of people and vehicles from the house of worship to the graveside. This is where the funeral committee helps. Details such as arranging for portable toilets and catering trucks to be in place at the cemetery to meet the needs of attendees are necessary. A recreation vehicle for the family's comfort during the waiting period should be a consideration.
Incident Command System
The department should employ the incident command system to manage the funeral event. An incident commander, one of high rank with decision-making authority and preferably in the decedent's chain of command, needs to be designated. The incident commander should hold the planning meetings and activate the following positions:
- Command liaison officer
- Public information officer
- Operations section chief
- Planning and intelligence section chief
- Logistics section chief
- Traffic group leader
- Ceremonies group leader
- Officer's association liaison
Each of these positions has specific duties and assignments that are required to ensure the proper conduct of the funeral.
In choreographing the funeral it is important to ensure that the family's wishes are met and that the family can see and hear all elements of the ceremony. It is important to ensure that the master of ceremonies has drill and ceremonies expertise and a commanding voice. The position of master of ceremonies is not a function of rank but of competence, assertiveness, and expertise with funerals. To ensure that the elements of the formation can hear the proceedings, it may be necessary to have an appropriate sound system available for the funeral.
A walk-through of the ceremony is important to ensure proper positioning of the elements. Also, it is necessary to mark the locations of the components of the ceremonial groups so that each component will know its exact location. When a funeral is conducted in the afternoon, the dress rehearsal can occur in the morning. Special attention must be given to the flag and coffin protocol. The order of the ceremony should follow a prescribe procedure with the master of ceremonies giving the commands.
Help Is Available
Developing a funeral protocol is not an easy task. Many factors need to be considered, including the flag and coffin protocol, the selection of the special ceremonial elements and the elements' roles and positioning, and the actual order of the ceremonies. The law enforcement agencies in Ventura County, California, have established a standard law enforcement funeral resource guide. The recommendations contained in this document are the result of extensive research and collective experience in the conduct of law enforcement-related funerals. The rationale behind the recommendations is well reasoned and unanimously agreed upon by the members of the committee. A copy of the "Law Enforcement Funeral Protocol" is available upon written request and may be reproduced on a not-for-profit basis. Call or write to Ron Chambers, Interim Chief of Police, City of Simi Valley, 3901 Alamo Street, Simi Valley, CA 93063 USA; 805-583-6901. ■