John Cooley Seminars

Confronting the Threat of Retaliation at Police Funerals

Yes, there may be times when security issues at a line-of-duty funeral become very important.

It should be obvious but the funeral coordinator should let the experts make the determination of any potential security threats and how they should be handled. The coordinators job is to work within these guidelines and manage and coordinate the funeral planning process.  

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I often encountered security directors for government officials who insisted having their people in close proximity to their boss at all times. Not a problem, once they told me what they needed and I could inform the traffic and seating coordinators etc.

The most common problem was having these security directors calling me a couple of hours before the services started and telling me what they needed. Doable? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. I found that when government officials said they wee going to attend, I always contacted their office directly and talked to their security director and insured we had a mutually acceptable plan.

This is when I relied upon the SWAT commander, intelligence unit, bomb squad etc. to be responsible for developing and implementing a security plan.
— J. Cooley

 Fears of Retaliation

Another security concern I encountered was when the officer who was killed was involved in an incident that involved the arrest or wounding or killing of one or more suspects, often gang members.

Then we were concerned with retaliation. This is when I relied upon the SWAT commander, intelligence unit, bomb squad etc. to be responsible for developing and implementing a security plan. Then I could manage the funeral around that. Many times the funeral plan was difficult to manage because of time restraints placed on keeping the church or auditorium closed until the bomb dogs etc. could clears it and then keeping it closed.

Factor in Multiple Locations

Other security issues involved motorcade routes that had to be evaluated for threats also. Then the interment location. And the reception. And the agency headquarters. The deceased officer’s home had to be protected also. The officers on patrol had to be especially vigilant. The list goes on.

Security has to always be a consideration. Even if the incident involving the deceased officer doesn’t have any potential threats inherent to it, there may still be a person or group that wants to attack the police. And what better place then a funeral formation?

Funeral coordinators need to plan for the unexpected. If not you, who?  

John Cooley

Reaching Out to Officers and Their Families

I often encountered difficulties in getting information to officers and their families when a line-of-duty death occurred. The information I typically wanted to distribute or inform them of was usually grief and bereavement related or information about support services and resources that were available.


Often I would make a brief presentation at roll calls and unit meetings and discuss support services and resources for the officers and their family members. Usually the handout material I would distribute would be found in the trash after the officers left. Officers seem to be reluctant to keep or take home information that may be helpful to them or their spouses and children that involve psychological or bereavement issues.  

Often agencies would have policies that restricted how the agency could contact family members directly. So we couldn’t send information through the mail addressed to “The family of ….”

Yet, there were also times when officers would share the information and we would get feedback that inquiries were being made and services provided. My objective was to make people aware of a variety of services and resources for them and their families and their friends, partners, and co-workers that may be beneficial in helping them through these difficult times, food for thought. If they declined the offer, fine. But to not be aware of it because the information was filtered out or screened by an officer, that’s really a disservice to everyone.

My discussions with officer’s family members after a funeral, often months later, would often include comments that they were not aware of the services and resources available to them through the agency. That there were few comments made about the death of the officer. That the most common comments made were something like “don’t worry about me ….” And “if something ever happens you’ll be well taken of.”  No personal introspective sharing, no emotions, no discussions about psychological support services or even finances. Although any of topics are private and personal they usually need to be discussed. My real concern is that they are not just ignored, but avoided.

Some very simple services like providing grief and bereavement material, informational meetings for specific agency members and/or their family members, and providing information about agency services and resources is beneficial, healthy, and an individual decision to use them or not. Information should be welcomed and shared, not blocked and trashed.

Another related issue is who should go to roll calls and unit meetings etc. and make presentations about support services and resources available to agency members. The answer is simple, someone who supports and believes in the importance of the message. I sat in the back of one roll call where the watch sergeant was assigned to make the announcement of services etc. He began his presentation by saying something like, “The chief wants me to tell you that the agency shrink is available for anyone who can’t handle what happened last night….” This is not what you want said or how you want it said. Be careful.   

The important thing is that funeral coordinators and agency manger’s need to try. Trying is more then handing out brochures or making an announcement. It takes some planning and effort and commitment. If not you, who?

John Cooley


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