I receive inquiries about casket flags for law enforcement funerals on a regular basis. They have included such questions as:
· Can a casket flag be used for an officer who committed suicide?
· Does an officer have to be a veteran to have a casket flag?
· Can a casket flag be used for retirees?
· Can there be more than one casket flag folded and presented?
· Can a casket flag be used for a canine?
These questions were related to a variety of circumstances, including officers’ deaths from illness, accident or suicide and officers killed in the line-of-duty. I will share my responses to these inquiries in this blog and add some additional personal thoughts.
There have been times when an active or retired officer has been involved in criminal activity that contributed to their death. In one situation, an officer was involved in a felony hit and run and when the investigators came to his home to confront him, he committed suicide. Another off-duty officer was trying to flee a vice prostitution sting and died in a traffic collision. Another officer was working an unauthorized off-duty security job as a body guard and drew his weapon and committed an ADW against a citizen, not knowing that the citizen was an undercover officer, who drew his weapon and fired, killing the body guard. Yet another officer was on-duty and was being arrested by investigators when he resisted and drew his weapon, resulting in his being shot by an investigator.
Whenever an active or retired officer’s death results from them being investigated for criminal activity or is the result of their participation in criminal activity, the agency should not provide an honors ceremony at the funeral. This includes having a casket flag, the folding, and presentation.
I use this criminal activity introduction to describe casket flags for suicides. Officers who commit suicide, without any criminal activity involved, do not commit a crime. Therefore, there is neither a protocol to restrict the use of a casket flag nor is there any protocol recommending it. It is the chief’s decision.
Since the draping of the casket with the National flag is a military tradition that began during the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815) and is a common sight in our military funerals, many people think that it is only for veterans. I have received numerous calls about the appropriateness of having a casket flag for a non-veteran active duty or retired officer. I even had an inquiry because a funeral director advised that a casket flag was not appropriate for a line-of-duty death because the officer was not a veteran. A casket flag is appropriate for all active duty officers, especially those killed in the line-of-duty, and all honorably retired officers.
Can a casket flag be used for retirees? Yes! Again, it is at the chief’s discretion.
There is one casket flag per casket and therefore only one flag to be folded and presented to the surviving family. Additional National flags can be presented to various family members and these flags should be pre-folded. I attended a funeral where the family insisted on having the casket covered twice and two flags folded and presented to two different family members. The family’s wishes were honored, because it’s ultimately the chief’s decision.
The United States Flag Code is a guideline, not a law. There are few, if any, absolutes. Many of the sections say “Should …” rather than “Shall …” Funeral coordinators should try to adhere to the code but there may be times when a modification may be needed to accommodate the wishes of the family or agency. Dignity and respect are the key considerations.
The flag code says that flags should not be carried horizontally. I was managing a service with an honors ceremony inside the church and there was no casket, the officer was cremated. The honor guard, made up of his co-workers, wanted to carry the flag down the center aisle horizontally rather then vertically and then proceed to fold it and present it. The ceremony was done with dignity and respect and went very well.
A casket flag is a special flag. It is 5 x9 ½ feet, cotton, with embroidered stars. It is never silk screened.
A controversial flag issue I get inquiries about is the appropriateness of having a casket flag cover the casket of a canine, especially one killed in the line of duty. I am not aware of any protocol that recommends or discourages the use of a national flag as a canine casket flag. The U.S. Flag Code refers to
citizens, veterans, highly
regarded state and national figures but makes no mention of canines. U.S.
I know of line-of-duty memorial services for canines that had a casket and a casket flag, folding and presentation and some that didn’t. I know of memorials where the canine was cremated and there was no casket but there was still a National flag, folding and presentation. The decision to have a casket flag or a National flag folded and presented is always at the discretion of the chief or sheriff.
I believe that there should not be a casket flag or a National flag folding and presentation for a canine, because there should be a clear demarcation maintained between police dogs and the human beings they serve. I think that the National flag should be reserved for the officers who took an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States, accepted the responsibilities and risks associated with that oath, and who sacrificed their lives to fulfill it. I am aware of strong opinions on both sides of this issue. Once again, it is a chief’s decision.
Another related casket flag issue is, “Can a casket flag be placed, folded and presented for a civilian?” The answer is absolutely yes! There is no flag code section restricting the use of a flag for civilian members of an agency. The Code permits a casket flag for any
Again, it is the chief’s decision. U.S.