Each year our law enforcement community suffers the loss of too many brave men and women in the line of duty. During a typical year, more than 150 lives are lost to line-of-duty deaths. Sadly, the majority of these deaths occur in departments with 50 or fewer officers, and many times it is the first line-of-duty death experienced by the department, the chief, the officers and civilian staff.

When an officer falls, department personnel are faced with dealing with the family, the media, the hospital, and their own grief and anger. As unfair as it seems, the routine functions of the department do not stop. The 911 calls for service may actually increase depending on the level of media coverage.

Added to this is the need to provide assistance to the family. They expect you to know how to arrange for a memorial service, honor guard and assist with obtaining all of the benefits the beneficiaries are entitled to — and on and on.

As law enforcement officers we plan and train for almost every conceivable incident. We do this to ensure the safety of responding officers and our citizens. Why is it that we so often fail to plan and train for a line-of-duty death or critical injury?

Preparing for this traumatic and tragic incident by having in place a standard operating procedure is critical to the welfare of the grieving family, friends and personnel. This SOP covers the department's objectives and responsibilities from the moment the incident occurs until the burial is complete, and it details the role that members of the department have from the chief to the receptionist.

In this article we hope to give you the incentive to prepare, to plan and to train for the worst which is what we as law enforcement do to protect everyone else.

One of the 900,000 officers in law enforcement dies every 53 hours. They leave their families and their departments devastated. Of the 21,000 law enforcement departments in the United States, 85 percent have fewer than 50 officers and 95 percent of those departments have never suffered a line-of-duty death. Many departments have no protocol in place to handle such a catastrophe.

The Casualty Assistance Guide, offered free by the Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation, was written by veteran police officers for police officers and their respective agencies. The main purposes of the Guide are:

  • Notify the family of the casualty
  • Assist the family at the hospital
  • Assist the family with funeral and burial arrangements
  • Assist the family with legal and benefits issues
  • Assist the family during any criminal proceedings
  • Provide long-term support for the specific needs of the family
  • Provide all necessary support and emotional care for the family of the fallen officer

While the main focus of the Casualty Assistance Guide is the line-of-duty death, the Guide also offers assistance with the handling of critical injuries, non-line-of-duty deaths and the suicide of an officer.

This Guide provides the framework for a casualty plan that can be adopted by any department, large or small. None of us likes to face the possibility of losing an officer; however, it is better to be prepared in advance than to have the incident occur and try to cobble a plan together as the situation unfolds.

It is not fair to the fallen officer's family or to his fellow officers who are grieving his loss while trying to comfort his family, arrange a funeral and attend to the many details that accompany a line-of-duty death. The grief process has no timetable, and casualty assistance should be considered an open-ended process. Families of our fallen officers should forever be considered a part of our "police family."

In addition to the ceremonial and religious events surrounding the death of a fallen officer, the Guide serves as a useful reminder for assisting the family with the benefits available to the family through the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Program. It also serves as a reminder that there are various state, local and private programs that offer financial and other tangible benefits to the surviving spouse and dependent children of our fallen officers.

Sadly, line-of-duty death is an all-too-familiar event for many of our larger departments, but there are many departments that have never experienced it. The Guide was written in such a way that any department can use all or any part of it as they see fit or as the need dictates. This is one planning document that we hope you will never have to take off your shelf.