How Police Officers Tell Next of Kin About Homicide Victims
Law enforcement officers are tasked with the difficult job of letting next of kin know that their loved one has been murdered. Every time a homicide occurs, officers and first responders are the first to be notified and first at the scene of the crime. First, they securely clear the scene, secure the premises, and begin to investigate.
During the investigation, they will need to find out, who the victim is, look to see if there is a murder weapon, evidence that needs to be collected, they will flag areas that require DNA testing, check to see if there was an entry point or if there wasn’t perhaps the crime could have been committed by someone the victim knew, CSI will take pictures, and once a positive identification has been made, officers must notify next of kin.
Statistics of Murder
According to the CDC, the number of Homicides reported in the US in 2020 were 24,576. This number reflects the number of crimes resulting in mortality. This means that well over 24,576 officers were called to the scene of a crime and had to partner up with another officer to actively deliver the news to the family members of the deceased.
Once a homicide has occurred, the person deceased has been identified and the crime scene has been locked down and secured, officers must find the next of kin and relay the information. Prior to locating the family, officers must plan what they will disclose, decide what questions need to be asked and who will accompany the assigned investigator to go inform the family.
Two uniformed officers will come to the home where the family of the homicide victim resides. Officers who deal with leading the family to identify the body, deal with the family’s emotional response and the trial, if there is a suspect.
According to the Office for Victims of Crime, officers should:
- Know the details surrounding the homicide
- Have already confirmed identity of the victim in case the family is in denial that this has occurred to their loved one
- Be certain that they are going to speak to the next of kin
- Speak to the families to inform them in person and do this in pairs
- Speak to the families privately
- Avoid small talk. Be specific about why you are there
- Avoid using words such as “expired”, “left us”, or “passed on”
- Say things such as “We are sad to inform you that something terrible has happened. Jane Doe has been killed in what appears to be a shooting. We are terribly sorry.
- Accept the family’s reaction without judgement
- Be prepared for intense reactions that could possibly turn hostile or disrespectful towards law enforcement or others in the home
- Show empathy toward the grieving family members
- Refer to the victim by their names and not use words such as “the victim”
- Listen to the family members with empathy and answer all questions
- Respect the family’s beliefs about death
- Avoid using phrases such as “they are in heaven with Jesus”
- Before leaving the survivor, make sure they have someone whom they can contact for support or comfort
- Make yourself available to drive the family to identify the body.
How Homicide Affects Families
Family members of homicide victims are incredibly impacted by the traumatic experience of losing someone they love in such a terrible manner. Often times life becomes defined by moments before the “incident” and life after the “incident”. Deaths resulting from violent attacks are traumatic as they are sudden and unexpected.
The psychological effects of homicide or murder leave family members in disbelief and unable to process that something of this nature could happen to one of their own. We see it on the news and on tv or read about cases online, but we never believe something so awful could happen to us or to those we love. Families seek justice and unfortunately, they don’t always get the closure or resolution they need.
The realization that their loved one has been forcefully taken from them is traumatic and impacts the way people see life and how they live the rest of their lives. Many of the same emotions emerge in people who lose someone unexpectedly are faced with the 4 tasks below to overcome their grief:
- It is important for the family member to accept the reality of their terrible loss
- They need to work through the stages of grief (shock & denial, Guilt and Pain, bargaining and deep anger, Depression, a shift in forward motion, reconstructing their new way of life without their person, hope and coming to peace with the situation)
- Adjust to living without their loved one in the picture
- Accept that their loved one is gone and learn to move on without them
Losing a loved one to homicide is a traumatizing and life altering experience that essentially turns people’s lives upside down and leaves them feeling lost and feeling alone to deal with their grief. There are 5 ways to cope with grief if you experience the loss of a loved one:
- Know that people cope with grief in many ways
- Having a support system and someone to discuss your emotions with is essential
- Seeking out support from a support group or mental health professional can be quite helpful
- Understand the stages of grief
- Allow yourself the space and time to heal at your own pace
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