Chaplain’s Class: Preparing for the Death Notification Assigment

(This is part two in the Chaplain’s Class series. Read all of the posts here.)

In this session of Chaplain’s Class, I will outline some guiding principles and procedures for performing a death notification. If you remember from my previous article, everyone in every circumstance deserves at the very least the dignity of receiving the worst possible news with compassion.

When you receive, or you are assigned, the unenviable task of making a death notification, you must be prepared to face the situation head-on. All too often in a smaller jurisdiction, the officer may actually know the deceased and or the family of the deceased. This reality obviously increases the difficulty of the mission.

CompassionIn the current world of modern technology, and especially with social media, all too often a family member will learn of the loss of a loved one even before an officer might be dispatched. However, that obviously is neither a certainty nor an excuse to delay or even deny the issuance of a death notification. My encouragement will always be to accept this directive as an important and very time-sensitive responsibility just as you would any other assignment.

When the assignment comes, a good first step is to partner-up with a chaplain, another officer, the medical examiner, or if possible the pastor or clergy-person of the family you are about to encounter. (Please note that extreme caution should be exercised when using a civilian as your partner under these circumstances, especially a civilian that is unfamiliar to you.) The notification team should investigate and make every effort to ensure that the notification is made to the correct person(s). Most everyone may assume making certain you are telling the right people comes automatically, but you would be surprised at how often an erroneous notification occurs. An erroneous notification can wipe out all of the compassion and goodwill you are hoping to establish during this process.

Prior to departure to make the death notification, the team should, at the very least, have an informal briefing to discuss and clarify the necessary information to be shared with the deceased’s family. For example, if the death occurred due to a criminal act, there are obviously facts concerning evidence, timelines, etc. that will be off-limits during the conversation, even if asked by a family member. Under other circumstances, the family member does not necessarily need the gruesome details at an initial time of notification. The family will in no doubt seek every detail, but the details can be revealed over time and not dumped upon them all at once. The news itself is horrible enough without the added baggage of details. Simply stating what is to be said and not said, before arriving at the front door to a home, will ensure that privileged information remains privileged. All of these considerations are in fact acts of compassion.

Following the briefing and clarification of information, the notification team should drive separately to the location at which the notification will be made.

In our next session, we will address what happens when you knock on the door.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Bergen Mease

Author, baseball fan, Florida State University Seminoles sports nut, Gulf Coast native usually somewhere with his feet in the sand.

Those are just a few things that could generally describe Bergen Mease. However, more importantly he is a Believer in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He is a patriot of the United States of America that comes from a US Navy family. He lives with his wife and children, whom they are raising with conservative leanings. He served as a law enforcement officer and more recently as a law enforcement and emergency services Chaplain. His mission is to write about topics that will make everyone think about how they treat others both personally and professionally.
Bergen Mease

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2 thoughts on “Chaplain’s Class: Preparing for the Death Notification Assigment

  1. Stop Please check your info on Chaplains. I just end a phone call with the 325 FW HQ Chaplain’s Office. I worked on the Flight, & mobility lines with 47 units. Was a Chaplain for years As a Fed Chaplain USAF I did many official military Red Cross notices in your local area. We need to meet at the
    Sheriffs Dept. I tell him you are coming. Tell then please stop writing.

  2. Thank you for your comment and your perspective. This article was written from my perspective as a civilian law enforcement chaplain. The article also stipulates the policies and procedures used by my chaplain’s team in our specific agency. I wrote this piece as a best practice guide for law enforcement officers and chaplains in general. I understand that your procedures are different and conducted differently. Again thank you for your comment and your dedication to service and ministry.


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