The most difficult task you will have as a Law Enforcement Chaplain is when you are asked to make a death notification.   You are going to a family you have never met and inform them one of their loved ones will never be coming home again. That in an of itself is difficult.  

Normally Death Notifications are handled through your local Coroner’s office. However there are times when the Coroner’s office may call dispatch and ask for a Police Chaplain to either assist in making a death notification, or to make the death notification on the Corner’s behalf (maybe because they are on back to back runs).  When you receive the page from dispatch to contact the Coroner’s Office, its a good indication you will be making a death notification.  Here are 10 important things you should know before making the actual Death Notification.

1. Has the Coroner made a Positive ID and How was it made?

You receive a page to call the Coroner’s Office. When you call the Coroner, identify yourself as Chaplain “on-call” from your department.  Then, the first question you should ask the Coroner is “Do you have a positive ID?”.  Why is this important?   The last thing you want to do is make a Death Notification to the wrong family.    You want to ask, “Do you have a positive ID and how was the positive ID made?”  

There are four ways typically a Coroner will make a positive ID:  

1)  Fingerprint (if the decedent has ever been arrested or part of a law enforcement agency);
2) Positive ID through Facial Identification (a next of kin makes a positive id through identifying a photo of the decedent’s face);  
3) Dental Records (if there is no fingerprint on file, and say the decedent is unrecognizable via facial identification, the Coroner may chose to make identification through dental records); and,
4) DNA (if there is very little of the decedent left, if there is enough tissue to extract DNA, the Coroner may make positive ID through DNA).

Most likely if you are paged to make a death notification, it is because the Coroner has made a positive ID through through fingerprint match with records; however, it should always be confirmed with the Coroner before you make the notification.

  1. Good article. I would add that one should never give the notification with children present. It is up to the family to break the news and it is not appropriate for a stranger to do so.


    1. Excellent reminder Jack! One thing I forgot to add to my top 10 list! 🙂


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