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  • Death notifications

    I'm looking for suggestions on how to handle death notifications. Something like having to tell a mom and dad that their 20-year-old son was killed in an MVA in the next town.

    I know there's no easy way to do it, but I was thinking there's people out there who have had to do that unfortunate duty more than I have and may have come up with a few suggestions on the best way to handle it.

    Any help would be appreciated.
    Cogito ergo summopere periculosus.

  • #2
    I want to hear about this one to. This was something they did not teach us in school.
    We intimidate those who intimidate others.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by mobrien316
      I'm looking for suggestions on how to handle death notifications. Something like having to tell a mom and dad that their 20-year-old son was killed in an MVA in the next town.

      I know there's no easy way to do it, but I was thinking there's people out there who have had to do that unfortunate duty more than I have and may have come up with a few suggestions on the best way to handle it.

      Any help would be appreciated.
      There is no "best way to handle it." It sucks, PERIOD. Of all the death notifications that I've made, I can not think of ONE that went "well." All you can do is be professional, have compassion, and maintain your composure. Just think about what you're going to say before you get there, and think about how you would want someone to act if they were telling you that one of YOUR loved ones passed away. Don't be surprised when mom drops to her knees and starts hysterically crying. It's generally a good practice to hang around until a friend of the family or relative is notified and can come to the scene to try to calm the hysterical family member(s). I don't know what else to tell you. These are tough assignments, and they suck.
      If it wasn't for STUPID PEOPLE I'd be unemployed.

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      • #4
        20 years ago, there was a training film out on doing those notifications. It recommended first going to a neighbors house and finding out if they have a family pastor or other close friend nearby, and having them go with you for moral support for mother, etc.

        Ask to speak to them and have them sit down. Explain that you have been tasked to deliver some news to them and tell them delicately and nonspecifically what happened. You might also have previously written down information of a contact number, address and name of whomever she is to contact at the other location for recovery of their loved one.

        Swat is right, it does suck, but it has to be done. Like everything else you have to practice what you are going to say, just like an interview. You can't just walk in cold.

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        • #5
          You're right... there is no easy way to do it. All you can is soften it a little by being gentle with the way you say it.

          Always go with at least two officers, preferably a supervisor. If your Dept has a Chaplain, take him along. Be prepared to be there a while.

          When you get there, ask to talk inside... don't do it on the doorstep. Try to get them to sit down. Identify yourself, and who you're talking to as best as you can... don't push for ID cards, verbal should be enough.

          Tell them Junior was involved in an accident/incident, and that he was injured pretty severely. They'll get very upset, but that's to be expected. Why they ask about his condition, say something to the effect, "We're very sorry, but the paramedics weren't able save him", or "His injuries were too severe, he didn't make it".

          If they really persist, you could give a very general cause of death, if it was totally obvious. (If you're not sure or don't know, say so) Do NOT go into any gory details. They don't need that kind of info right now.

          Offer to call their priest/pastor if they have one. Gently insist on calling a family member come to the house, to provide emtional support. Do your level best not to leave them alone.

          Provide the family member with the investigating officer's name and contact information, if it's not you. Let them know which hospital the victim went to. The funeral director can usually handle it from there.

          If they ask about the vehicle, tell them it's being held as evidence for a short time. It's going to be a nasty shock if it's completely demolished, or has lots of blood in it. I usually advise them to just let the insurance company handle that aspect.

          Some DON'Ts:

          Don't smirk or giggle... should go without saying, but some people can't help themselves. Have a little compassion for the family, if not the victim.

          When the wife answers the door, don't ask if she is "Joe Smith's widow".

          If alcohol was involved (DUI), especially if it was on the part of the deceased, don't say so now. They'll find out in due course. If they ask, say you're not sure, and/or can't say until Tox results or an autopsy is done.

          This may sound chauvinistic.... but if a positive ID of the body is required, I try to avoid having immediate female family members, like the wife, do it. She'll have that image in her head for the rest of her life.

          Don't recommend they hire a lawyer to sue anyone. They'll figure that out on their own soon enough.

          I'm sure others will add more.

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          • #6
            From personal experience...

            Do not assume that the ID the victim had in his wallet is really him. A partner of mine took a fatal accidnet and asked me to help him out by doing the death notification. Sure no problem, what the victim name? So partner gives me the name and I go to the home.

            I make contact with Dad in the middle of the night, go inside and take a seat. I tell Dad that his son Steve was in an accident and did not survive. Dad is shocked as hell. While speaking with Dad immediatly after telling him, a young kid come walkin out a bedroom and says, "No dad, I'm right here. I wasn't in an accident, I've been in bed" I'm thinking, oh ****, now what, we do not even know who was killed!

            Turns out that Steve's older brother, John had a suspended license so he stole Steve's license to use in case he was stopped. But, Steve is 5'6 185lbs and 22 y/o and John is 6'02" 220 and 28y/o.

            The body must have been pretty messed up to not be able to tell the difference in height/weight.

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            • #7
              notifications

              By all means, take a department chaplain with you. If your department does not have one, borrow from the nearest department that does. I have done a few, and that chaplain does most the work. Most department chaplains are non denominational. I have not seen a family refuse to talk to the chaplain or not appreciate the presence of the chaplain. You are there mostly for the

              Comment


              • #8
                Prepare them first, "I have some bad news."

                Be compassionate, but be direct. Don't say "they passed on" or "they didn't make it". When people get news like this they will grasp onto anything that means it's not true. "They passed on" ends up meaning "they didn't stop where they were supposed to" and "They didn't make it" ends up meaning "they didn't arrive, we don't know where they are". It sounds stupid, but it's a defense mechanism. You have to be direct to get around it. "I'm sorry, but Johnny died."

                Be available to answer their questions. They're going to want to know exactly what happened once the shock wears off; maybe in a few minutes, maybe in a few days. Don't be surprised if they don't believe you right away.

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                • #9
                  It Never Will Be Easy

                  I have done many. Too many. There is no way to prepare. Just be as kind and understanding as possible and give no detials of the way death occurred.
                  Juts teel family that loved one wsa killed in a traffice accident or hoever the method of death and that is that.

                  Be prepared to make calls to other family, neighbors and minister of choice.
                  Notification si usually done by two officers & no matter how you do it it will never get easy.

                  One thing you never do is say you understand how they feel or what they are going through.

                  I did my first at 21 and i had been at the scene of a single vehicle accident where driver was killed & two passengers were injured. Car went airbourne itno a messy cattle feed lot and it was very dark at scene. By time we arrived at hospital for followup Dr had removed wallet of fatal and had just opened it for id. He handed it to me and I saw it was a guy I had known all my life. Just as I walked back out of room after taking a look at his body his parents walked in and doctor looked at me and said you tell them.

                  I didn't have to say a word because when I approached with his wallet still in my hand his dad said he's dead isn't he and I only nodded. His mom collapsed sobbing. I was able to tell them he died instantly and did not suffer at all.

                  After 20 plus yrs and many notifications it never gets easy and all you can do is be as kind and considerate as possible. The worst is notifying an officers family he died. They know as soon as they see the units roll up at the house

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                  • #10
                    I've only had to do it once. I called the victims employer to advise their vehicle had been involved in a collision and to get some vehicle info for report, being very vague about the extent of injuries telling them the parents were being contacted. The next thing I know dispatcher calls me on the phone at the office telling me the dead kids dad is on the phone wanting to talk to me. The kids employer called the parents and told them something bad had happened. I ended up having to tell the dad on the phone his son had been killed. That really sucked big time. The SO from the neighboring county was enroute to make the notification while I was on the phone. If I had to do it over I would have waited to contact the employer.
                    Cowboys in town. Trouble expected.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by PTI
                      I've only had to do it once. I called the victims employer to advise their vehicle had been involved in a collision and to get some vehicle info for report, being very vague about the extent of injuries telling them the parents were being contacted. The next thing I know dispatcher calls me on the phone at the office telling me the dead kids dad is on the phone wanting to talk to me. The kids employer called the parents and told them something bad had happened. I ended up having to tell the dad on the phone his son had been killed. That really sucked big time. The SO from the neighboring county was enroute to make the notification while I was on the phone. If I had to do it over I would have waited to contact the employer.
                      I had to do that last month. A couple got eaten by a grizzly not far from here, and the kids (adult children) were in Seattle. I had to go through a long phone list of possibilities before I even found the kids, then I had no choice but to tell them over the phone.

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                      • #12
                        Usually, the out-of-state agencies want to break the news themselves, over the phone, and they just need us to get the people to call them. I like to do that singing-messenger style. When the door opens, I blow into a pitch-pipe, clear my throat, then lay it on them;

                        I think it
                        Talk sense to a fool, and he will call you foolish - Euripides

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                        • #13
                          somewhat humerous story

                          I was told by our dispatcher that a neighboring county handled a fatal accident and that the family (son in this case) lived in our town and that I needed to relay the information. I was given his name, something like Jason Juksylnn. This name is made up but it was an off the wall last name. I went to the address given to me and asked for this subject. He was there so I stepped inside and told him that I was sorry to inform him that his father passed away from an accident. His wife dropped to her knees screaming, he lost all color in his face and stared at me dumbstruck. After about a minute of this I informed him that I was told to have him contact his sister. He replied that he did not have a sister. He then asked if I had the right Jason because there was another Jason Juksylnn, not related, who lived nearby. He then told me his father's name, which was not the same name I had been given. I felt so stupid, so my advice...

                          When telling someone that their loved one has died, do not say son, daughter, father, mother, etc. without saying the name of the deceased also.

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                          • #14
                            NBaw Delta, it is; Roses are red, Violets are blue, your husband is dead and the rug rat too. God I'm sorry, sick mind from so many years It is really the worse duty that you can do and there is no 'right' way. It is best to get a relative or close friend to go with you. You sit down and explain that there was a wreck, incident, medical emergency, etc and tell them but you are sorry to bring them the news that their whatever has died. Really tough.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by jakflak
                              I had to do that last month. A couple got eaten by a grizzly not far from here, and the kids (adult children) were in Seattle. I had to go through a long phone list of possibilities before I even found the kids, then I had no choice but to tell them over the phone.
                              NEVER make notification by phone. That is the worst thing you can do. In this day and age, no reason an officer from whatever jurisdiction can not make an in-person notification. I have been assisted by small SO's in New Mexico to larger agencies such as Dallas PD. As long as the information is good and sent via NCIC, an agency on the other end of a long distance notification will make that notification for you. Now that is porfessional courtesy.

                              Comment

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