Training is essential, for not only doing it right, but doing it best
I recently presented my twenty-eighth seminar on “Planning for the Unthinkable – the Police Funeral.” The hosting agency had not experienced an officer killed in the line-of-duty in almost a hundred years. It had been 15 years since they had experienced an officer killed in an on-duty traffic accident. However, it was the death of an active civilian employee from an illness that prompted a call to me through my website. There were questions about appropriate honors ceremonies. It was after this discussion that agency management realized their funeral protocol was inadequate and outdated. They asked for a seminar.
A dozen agencies attended and most sent several representatives, representing various interests within their agency, i.e. honor guard, human resources, special events planning, and management. A few sent a single representative, mostly supervisors or command officers. However, one officer, who represented his agency, mentioned after the seminar that he thought the presentation was outstanding and he had a lot of information to take back to his department. However, he feared no one in management would listen or advocate any changes and he was neither in a position nor had the rank to have any impact.
The objective of my seminars is to provide agencies with an introduction to the myriad of topics concerning how to prepare for, respond to, and manage and coordinate a police funeral, especially a line-of-duty death funeral. My personal coordinator’s check-list has over 150 items. Many are task oriented, i.e. seating and parking, and many are interpersonal or people oriented, i.e. determining and meeting the needs of the agency members and their families. Many times an agency is so focused on the task- oriented issues that they overlook or minimize the interpersonal issues. We only get one chance to do it and we not only want to do it right, but best. One officer commented on the course evaluation, “ … the seminar exposed how much we need to do to prepare ….” Another said, “ … an eye opener.”
This seminar was very enjoyable and I walked away exhausted yet satisfied, and that was because of the audience. There were representatives from Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) who shared their experiences. There were several agency chaplains who shared their perspective. There were agency command officers who contributed management viewpoints. There were honor guard members who shared their knowledge and experience. There were officers who had never been in involved with a line-of-duty funeral who asked questions that others needed answered. Many shared real life experiences that made topics real and personal. As a presenter I could not have asked for more from the participants.
I always advocate that once the seminar is over and I leave, since many of the agencies attending, large and small, are neighbors, that they should be able to work together and develop a mutual-aid support plan. That they should be able to develop comprehensive agency specific funeral protocols. As one of the course evaluations commented, “Being able to talk with other agencies and combining the best of all and create a better protocol.”
The topic of planning a police funeral is often one no one wants to talk about. Agencies have refused invitations to host a seminar because the topic was too morbid. Yet, evaluations include comments like, “ … one of the best training classes I have had in my law enforcement career.” And, “Instructor was knowledgeable and compassionate about subject matter …” And “Personal stories are always best to make a point. You (instructor) are the real McCoy, emotional and interested, ….”
These seminars are important to any agency, regardless of their size or funeral planning experience. It’s not a question of if, but when. Many agencies have no protocol or plan. Others have an operational plan that worked years ago and hopefully will work again. At one seminar an officer shared a story of how when his small agency experienced their first line-of-duty death in the early morning hours and all on duty officers responded, there was neither a plan nor the personnel to make the death notification. In fact, the notification didn’t occur for several hours and the spouse only lived a few miles away. Friends had been trying, and, thankfully, didn’t succeed, to contact the wife and offer their condolences and support before the agency even arrived to make the notification. This is unacceptable. My seminars provide the guidelines necessary to prevent these types of lapses in “Planning for the Unthinkable …” from happening. As one evaluation commented, “Things included in the presentation that are taken for granted.”
Agencies interested in learning more about how to bring a seminar to their agency or region, can contact me through the Policefunerals.com website, by phone or email, and learn the specifics for hosting a seminar.
Other comments from participants:
"Instructor very knowledgeable and compassionate about subject matter which made training a good experience."
"Various ideas had never crossed my mind before. John clearly has a heart for this topic and is also knowledgeable and experienced. He isn’t talking about theories, but is speaking from real life experience."
"The instructor was very knowledgeable and was able to give personal life stories to help get a better understanding. The entire program – good information."
"I appreciated the reminder to update personal and emergency content information with agency, preferably on an annual basis to insure the information is correct in the event there is a serious injury/death of an officer. Also the reminder to include on that information an officer who he/she would prefer to make a death notification to the next of kin."
"This seminar opened my eyes to what my agency is not prepared for."
"I learned that there is a lot more to learn about this than thinking you can pull it out of air and throw it together, even concerning a small department."