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  1. #1
    ms1600's Avatar
    ms1600 is offline Neither here nor there
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    Death notifications- next of kin

    One of my current investigations is for a construction fatality. As part of our process we send a sympathy letter and keep the next of kin notified of our investigation (preferably before they read it in the paper or hear it on the news). The family had been trying to get a hold of the victim for the past week and I had to do a death notification over the phone. The local agency where they live (out of state) tried to contact them in person, but were unable to. It was one of the hardest conversations I've ever had to do.

    1. How do you perform death notifications?
    2. How do you perform them if you are in a different location than the family?
    3. Any tips for the future?

    Thanks,
    ms1600
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  2. #2
    Tango Zulu 22's Avatar
    Tango Zulu 22 is offline Duncopperin!
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    The first thing to remember about giving a death message is that those on the receiving end will remember and probably relive those moments for the rest of their lives.

    Don't use euphemisms like passed over, you have to get across in no uncertain terms that the subject has died and is not simply injured.

    Be prepared for any possible reaction to the news, I've had both ends of the spectrum from fighting with the father of a 17 year old girl who aspirated her own vomit at a party on Xmas night, to a woman going into the kitchen and opening champagne to toast " The bastard's finally dead" on getting the news of the death of her estranged husband.

    Try to engineer some support, it's not good to give this sort of news to a lone person and a friend, relative or even neighbour can be invaluable.

    I've never had to do a message over the phone, but one of my team went to deliver a message and found the deceased's grandparents housesitting whlist the parents were on holiday in Spain - the grandparents rang the parents and asked my officer to give the message over the phone - he admitted to me that he then went outside after the call and burst out crying.

    Remember that you are human too and probably will be affected by the task itself.

    I'm probably waffling a bit now, but this was one of the things I was passionate about getting right when I was dealing with fatal crashes and sadly had to do it more times than I care to remember - in the region of 100 over a 7 year period and I can remember many of them in stark detail.

    Hope this helps.......
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  3. #3
    berserk is offline The reason they do psych evals
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    We usually have one of our victims' advocates with us during notifications. In some cases, they do most of the talking.

  4. #4
    sgtbear111's Avatar
    sgtbear111 is offline retired
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    "In Person In Time"

    http://www.dc-cops.org/PDFs/In_Person_In_Time.pdf

    Above link to an outstanding work by the Iowa Attorney General. A good one to keep in your work vehicle. Publc document, on page two is the release for local copying.
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  5. #5
    Jks9199 is offline The Reason People Hate Cops & Causer of War
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    That pamphlet really reflects a lot of good, hard work -- and unfortunate experience.

    There's no perfect or right way to do a death notification -- but there are hell of a lot of wrong ways. The key is to be compassionate, and be professional. One key: be sure you notify the right person. I know of one officer who was involved in a tragic case where there was a mistake made at the hospital following a crash. A girl and her very similar in appearance friend were misidentified as each other; one lived, one died in the crash. Obviously, both suffered significant injuries in the crash, and the survivor was unconscious. Only after a couple of days when the survivor woke up did the mistake get corrected. Not good...

    Control the scene of the notification as much as you can. I was on a suicide scene and it took some time to locate the father, who was at one of several work sites. Meanwhile, we're on the scene dealing with the family. Lots of family friends were there. Dad was found, and simply given the message to "come home quick." He arrives, and is met by a loose mob of relatives and friends -- who break the news to him in the middle of the street. He collapses in shock and grief... So now we, on top of everything else, we've got an additional crisis going down in the street. Had I to do it over again, a notification should have been done wherever dad was found, by the police (ideally, by our agency... he had to be fairly local), and he could have been transported home or at least prepared for the situation.

    I've also had some rather positive notifications. For example, we received a request to do a notification for a West Coast agency to next-of-kin in our jurisdiction. It actually gave the family closure, since the relative was long estranged, and nobody had known what she was up to -- or even where she was.

    Another thing: death notifications are not quick calls, and your agency needs to understand that. It's not like you're returning a lost license plate, and can be in and out in minutes. You need to be there as long as they need you to be there. It might be no longer than it takes to give the news -- or it might be hours. After all, this is generally some of the worst and hardest to take news someone can ever get. I'm not saying you should milk it, and I'm not suggesting that you need to spend the rest of your shift working through the funeral home papers and decisions with them -- but you need to be able to be there long enough for someone to get there to help them.

    And -- just cause it's worth saying and kind of fits -- if you're on the scene with the body, and family is present... remember where you are. Several years ago, I was on the scene of an unattended death that arose from a check-the-welfare call. The guy's father was upstairs, and I suspect he knew what we were going to find... His adult son had died overnight, and because he didn't have an attending physician and the cause wasn't immediately discernible. (OK, he was at least 400 lbs... and had clearly been ill -- but still no attending physician.) While we were waiting for the ME's pickup service to arrive, we were downstairs, and telling stories. His father heard us laughing about one or another of them... which led to having to apologize. So, keep in who might be there to overhear you.
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  6. #6
    ms1600's Avatar
    ms1600 is offline Neither here nor there
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    Thank you all for your feedback. It was a difficult situation for me since it was my first next of kin notification and I had not anticipated doing it. I had assumed that the family had already been notified. I was contacting them to let them know that my agency was investigating the workplace accident. APD had contacted the PD where the next of kin lives to do the notification in person. For reasons unknown to me that didn't happen. I realized it 5 seconds into my conversation on the phone with the victim's mother. It was difficult for me to do it over the phone with the mother. The call lasted 30 minutes and I treated her like I would like my mother to be treated. We normally let the police or troopers do the next of kin notification, but now I realize that may not always happen.

    Fortunately, we had training several weeks ago called 'Best practices for interacting with victims' families.'

    @sgtbear111- Thanks for that excellent resource. I've printed it off and will share it with others in my office.


    ms1600
    Verified Libra- There sure are a lot of people born in August around here.

    Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes he gets you.

 

 

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