Initial Procedures taken by Law Enforcement
Due to the nature of suicide, authorities must investigate the scene to rule out any foul play prior to advising the families. Officers are given the difficult task of disclosing the incident to families of the deceased. It is not an easy job, but authorities must remain objective as well as empathetic.
When officers talk to families to inform them that their loved ones have passed, they must remain calm, be very direct and use words such as “(victims name) has committed suicide and died as a result of it”, for example.
The communicating parties from Law Enforcement need to specifically say that the family member has died and not sugar coat it as family members often go into a state of shock and are unable to fully process the news. Family members need to hear the information in a very concise and direct manner. They must refrain from using language such as “we have lost your loved one” or “we regret to inform you that your daughter has passed”. Often, it’s best to be direct and forthcoming, use the victim’s name, and disclose manner of death.
When a suicide occurs, officers have procedures to abide by. According to the website Coroner Talk, notifications must always be done in person, never on the phone. Even if the person has committed suicide in another state or city, uniformed officers must speak to the family in person.
Difficulties of Notifying Family Members
While officers need to remain empathetic when delivering the news, they need to be direct and always stay alert as they need to ensure that the family member does not put themselves in danger or harm themselves. For more details on how officers deliver the news with compassion visit: https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/delivering-life-altering-news-with-compassion.
We spoke with Retired Law Enforcement Officer James Smith who worked in law enforcement for over 24 years and asked him for an example of a common type of phrase was used when advising a family member of the suicide of their loved one and he said, “I sadly inform you that “Jane Doe” has fatality killed herself”. This is an example of how straight forward officers need to be. They cannot sugar coat or use words that can be misleading to someone in shock.
Below you will find additional examples of things officers would say to a family member of a suicide/death victim:
-We regret to inform you that John Doe has died from what appears to be a suicide
-I am afraid we have some bad news. John Doe is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head
– We are sorry to bring the news that John Doe is dead. They committed suicide.
While having to speak directly to family members of victims of suicide, officers also need to be ethical and compassionate. They are not allowed to be judgmental or insensitive. Officers must be aware not to use words that can be misleading to someone in a state of shock.
Some examples of things officers should not say to family of suicide/death victims:
-We are sorry to inform you that (your loved one’s name) has passed
-We are here with news that John Doe is no longer with us
– We are here to inform you that John Doe has transitioned
Taking the Correct Steps to Inform Someone of a Suicide
Below you will find the steps and procedures officers must take when informing someone that their loved one has committed suicide:
- Scene where the incident happened needs to be closed off to ensure no one other than law enforcement enters the premises.
- The Scene of the suicide needs to be investigated thoroughly
- Body needs to be identified correctly
- 2 uniformed officers will be sent to the home where the suicide victims family reside
- Using direct and plain language, the officers need to let the family know that their loved one has committed suicide. Often, they will start the statement by saying “we have some terrible news” or something of that nature to prepare the family for what is to come
- While being direct the officers should be compassionate and use phrases such as “we know this is especially difficult for you”.
- Officers need to make sure the family member does not become erratic and try to harm themselves or others
- Officers need to be available to answer any questions the family may have or at least guide them in the direction of where they can get more answers
- Family members will want their loved one’s belongings; therefore, officers will tell them how to recover these items.
- Authorities will give the family all details as to where to see the body and be available to transport the loved ones if needed.
- Officers should always leave a name and number where they can be reached if the family has any questions in the future.
Law enforcement officers have the difficult job of informing family members that their loved one has passed due to suicide.
They must remain objective, unemotional, and deliver the news directly but with empathy but only once they have undoubtedly confirmed the identity of the deceased and investigated the scene of the crime.
How Law Enforcement provides closure on the subject, and Resources to move forward in a healthy way
Soon thereafter, officers will visit the next of kin to gracefully inform them of the death. Two uniformed officers will disclose the person’s status and standby to make sure the person receiving the bad news is not in any danger and/or does not hurt anyone around them.
Officers then begin to explain details, let the family know where they can go to see the body and they must offer to drive them there. They need to give the family a contact number for them as they will likely have questions down the road.
This is not an easy job, but it is one that is necessary and that starts the grieving process for the family. Visit https://tacticalgear.com/experts/how-to-make-a-death-notification for more information.
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