Off-Duty Is the Family’s Responsibility

I have enough experience to believe that when an agency has an officer die off-duty, and it is their first, and they have no idea how to help, they will likely say something like I just read in a news article. “Since (name) was not killed in the line of duty, Chief (name) said, the funeral arrangements will be made by (name) family.” Period. Only knowing what I read in the paper, it would appear to me that the agency is not involved in the funeral planning process.

What I would have liked to have read would be something like, “Even though Officer (name) was not killed in the line of duty, our agency will be providing all the assistance and support we can to the family during these difficult times.” But what could this assistance and support actually mean for an off-duty death?

Initially, if necessary, make the death notification according to the agency’s protocol. Regardless of how the notification was made, informing the agency’s chaplain, if there is one. Assign an agency funeral coordinator or liaison officer to work with the family to help them make all the fundamental arrangements; mortuary, church, memorial park, funeral service, and interment. Assist the family in accessing all available agency related benefits. Provide suitable grief and bereavement literature and counseling services. Inform the family of the agency’s desire to participate in the services and help coordinate that participation. Determine if the family would like an honors ceremony at the interment, and if so, coordinate those ceremonies.

The list could easily become quite detailed and extensive, but the point is that we can’t just say, “The arrangements will be made by the family.”  Well, we can say it, but I hope we don’t just let it end there. When an officer dies, we help. We are good at crisis management. Even if we have never done it before, there are services and resources available to help us learn and understand what can be done and how to do it. It just takes a desire and commitment to help our people.

Prior planning would be beneficial. A line of duty death funeral planning protocol would be informative and provide direction. If an agency is prepared for a line-of-duty death, then it is prepared for the death of an officer from any cause; illness, accident, or suicide. Off-duty deaths, especially those unexpected tragic events, are traumatic for every family and agency. There is much that can be done to provide assistance and support. The issue is not as much what to do, as are you ready to do it.

To say that “the arrangements will be made by the family” is unacceptable. It is not our responsibility to manage the funeral arrangements for the family but to help the family by providing guidance, support, and specific resources and services.

If not us, who?

John Cooley