Death notification: Breaking the bad news from Law Enforcement Technology at Officer.com
medical examiner or coroner's office may make notifications in larger urbanareas, but there are far more officers than medical examiners so notificationsoften fall to police.If the officers are fortunate, the departments that employ them will haveprovided adequate death notification training. Training doesn't makenotification any easier, but it might keep officers from making matters worsefor themselves and the families of the victim.Too few police agencies, however, provide any formal death notificationtraining. The focus of law enforcement is on solving crime. Not many policedepartments have a specific policy regarding notification of next of kin."A lot of people in public safety, especially in higher ranking positions, givedeath notification lip service, but it really is the redheaded stepchild becauseit's the dirty job no one wants to do," Morgan says. Death notification is alarge component of the death investigation course he teaches at NorthGeorgia College and State University. He also teaches a death notificationclass twice a year at the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy of theJacksonville University. Morgan's death notification course is one of what heestimates is fewer than 15 nationwide.Since so few death notification classes exist, too many officers are forcedto learn death notification practices on the job, usually from older, moreexperienced officers who have been through the drill many times."It may be better now, but when I was on the street we received littletraining on death notification," says Troutdale, Oregon, Chief of Police DaveNelson. "Mostly, it was on-the-job training. We'd get the most experienceddeputy we could to go with us and take two deputies and a member of theclergy to do the notification."
Role of chaplains
Most police departments these days have police chaplains available to helpmake notifications. The International Conference of Police Chaplains (ICPC)estimates 65 to 70 percent of all departments, including all large urbanagencies, now have chaplains assigned to them."There is still some old guard out there who think their guys can suck upeverything, but they're so far behind the curve of what's happening today itwould be funny if it weren't so reckless," says the Rev. Chuck Lorraine,executive director of the ICPC.How police utilize their chaplains varies from department to department."I spent 25 years as a frontline chaplain in California and we were involvedin all death notifications, but we still have places in this country where somedesk sergeant makes notifications over the phone, which is ludicrous,"Lorraine says.Police chaplains are trained in the proper way to perform death notificationand are emotionally equipped to deal with it. The officers are there in anofficial capacity to answer questions."There are resources to teach departments how to do death notificationproperly, but why have your officer involved notifications if you have achaplain that can handle it for you?" Lorraine asks.There are situations, however, where police chaplains are less welcome bypolice detectives, particularly after violent crimes.
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