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Death Notification: Breaking the Bad News

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 35 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2008 Pages: 18,20,22,25
Douglas Page
Date Published
March 2008
6 pages
After noting the importance of police death notifications for family members of victims and for police-community relations, this article outlines best practices in death notifications and suggests resources police might use to assist in death notifications.
Police officers are often given the responsibility of notifying families of the deaths of a family member killed in a homicide, traffic accident, or other death in which the police are first responders. How such notifications are made is critically important for its initial impact on the family as well as how family members will subsequently view the sensitivity and competence of police. Because of the frequency and importance of police death notifications, training for this responsibility is important. This article briefly describes death-notification training materials that have been developed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the International Conference of Police Chaplains, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Although departments may vary in their death-notification policies and practices, there is a consensus about basic best practices. These include making the notification in person rather than by phone; making the notification in pairs (two officers or an officer and an appropriate resource person); making the notification in private; using plain language to explain how, when, and where the family member died; and making the notification before the family learns of it through news media. Resource persons that police officers might use in making death notifications are the police department chaplain and volunteers trained by hospitals in trauma intervention.