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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
“Probably more than 60 and fewer than a hundred.” This was the reply of former St. Louis (Missouri) Metropolitan Police Department Detective Benjamin Bender when asked how many times during his career he was responsible for notifying a family of the death or serious injury of their loved one. “I can't tell you how many times I've stood outside the darkened porch of some poor family at three in the morning waiting to ring the doorbell and trying to gather my thoughts on what I will say when they come to the door,” said Benjamin.
He is not alone. Making trauma notifications to a victim’s next of kin is one of the many sobering and personally challenging duties experienced during a career in law enforcement. How notifications are made can have lasting impacts on officers, the family receiving the news, and perceptions of a department’s empathy toward the public; it can serve as either a good or bad start to the inevitable investigation that follows many notifications.
James Filippello, a retired police lieutenant and author, said that in his 25-year career, “I never kept count, but every death notification I delivered was one too many. Making a death notification has to rank as one of the worst experiences in police work. After the news is delivered, you don't just turn around and leave. A good officer will do what they can to assist the family during this tragedy.”
Bob Cooke, a retired Special Agent in Charge of the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement said, “For the most part, police don't receive much training in this area other than the basic academy and then later, in some instances, when officers go to homicide investigator's training or major accident investigator training.”
Recognizing the lack of formal training that most officers receive, the impact of making notifications on officers, the impact on family members receiving the news, and the lack of standardized practices throughout the country, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in conjunction with its partners at Penn State University, developed a resource to support departments and officers. We Regret to Inform You is a no-cost online training intended to help local law enforcement provide sensitive trauma notifications with professionalism, dignity, and compassion.
The training—based on best practice standards and the latest research—covers a variety of considerations, including mass casualty events, foreign national victims living in the United States and U.S. citizens living abroad, language barriers and other cultural differences, dealing with children and the elderly, the role of victim assistance, the media, and the impact of social media. It features a resource section with web links, a pocket guide for the death notification team to use, a grief brochure that can be left with the family after the notification, and a video in which officers discuss the impact of making such notifications.
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