Please allow me to introduce myself, for the purpose of this Blog, my name is Kenny. I have been a police officer in two major US Cities for about 15 years. The first city was New York, where I worked in arguably the busiest (and most violent) precinct for over 11 years. My career spanned patrol, Anti-Crime, Auto-Larceny, and a slew of other Special operations.

During that time, I have witnessed more homicides, suicides, and natural deaths then I care to think about, but if I had to guess, I would estimate well into the hundreds.

If you are reading this, you are either preparing for a worst case scenario or may have just experienced a recent loss (or maybe you are simply curious about how to deal with a decedent from a law enforcement point of view).

Let me first extend my condolences if you have experienced a loss. I know firsthand how over whelming it can be (especially without a strong support system) and have also felt every emotion, doubt, and pain that you are feeling. Like you, I have lost family members to tragic circumstances and even with my years of experience, I have forgotten some very basic rules when it comes to dealing with personal loss.

There are a number of “Do’s and Don’ts” when a person passes away that should be taken into consideration prior to anything else. Before I start with these, I would like to address the 4 types of death that are most prevalent; and how they are viewed by law enforcement.

1)      Natural Deaths are often more personal, with family members present and grieving at the scene. For the officer, this is both a heartfelt and professional situation where words of condolence and advice come automatically from years of training. The officer will ask numerous questions, not only to gain information for the Medical Examiner or Coroner, but to help take the mind of the family off their pains and help get them focused on the proper steps.

2)       Suicides are second in effecting police officers. Depending on the situation, whether it be a terminally ill person, or a wayward teen, there is a certain amount of empathy that officers feel for those who are “left behind”. The investigation will be more in depth, to rule out possible foul play and will be long reaching to include family and friends, spouses/partners, and other associates.

3)      Accidental deaths are generally handled with the same care as any other type of Death Investigation. Usually, accidental deaths are quite apparent (i.e.:  Motor vehicle Accidents). Despite the appearance, family members will be questioned to determine any factors which may have led to the death (example: Was s/he dependant on any drugs or alcohol? Was the decedent acting strangely the last time they were seen?

4)      Homicides are the largest type of investigation for law enforcement. Family members will be questioned by numerous officers and Detectives. Often, officers or Detectives will go door to door if possible and question neighbors, coworkers, associates, people on the streets; basically anyone who may have seen or heard something, or who may have vital information for the investigation.

Now that I’ve addressed various causes of death, there are certain basic steps that apply to each that should be applied by any person who is on the scene.

A)     When entering a home, apartment, or dwelling and it is apparent someone has expired, call 911 immediately. Usually, Dispatchers are trained to walk you through the process of checking the body without disturbing a possible crime scene; they will also notify Fire/EMS and police personnel.

B)      Take a quick look around the home; does anything seem out of sorts? Is there a window open that the person would usually lock? Is anything missing?  Try not to touch anything, as this could potentially contaminate a crime scene.

C)      Unless specifically told to do so, do not touch the decedent! Officers on the scene will be checking the body for defensive wounds, petechial hemorrhaging (ruptured blood vessels in the eyes-generally caused by choking or strangulation), possible skin under the nails and any movement of the body will hamper the investigation.

D)      If this person was elderly, or had health issues, do you know where they kept their medications?

E)      If, in anyway, something seems out of sorts, treat the entire area as a crime scene. What I mean by this is simple: restrict the amount of people who come in or go out, do not touch anything-even if you’re trying to clean and makes things look presentable or moving something that may appear trivial to you, you are obstructing what the trained eyes of an officer or detective may notice and may deem critical.

These are just a few simple steps that will allow the police to do their job and your assistance and strength will be needed during questioning.

After the conclusion of the investigation in cases of a natural death, the body will most likely be released to the family. Having an idea of what to do next is very important. Did the decedent have any final requests? Do you know which funeral home you would like to use.

Perhaps more importantly, if the cause of death was not natural (or if the decedant has already begun to decompose) you will need a trained and certified biohazard cleaner.

Through the years, I have seen everything from family members, to hired cleaning crews attempt to remove, organize and clean the stains, fluids, and other hazardous materials. The problem with this, is that not only must a person have a very strong constitution, but must also have the training and know-how to truly clean the affected area.

Fortunately, there are many reputable biohazard cleaners out there (as it is a growth business).

As a law enforcement officer, I cannot recommend any one business for this task. I can, however, speak of a personal experience anecdotally:

I was called to a residential home regarding a suicidal subject who had been found by his long term partner. The scene was grisly, a single gunshot wound to the head with a high powered hand gun. The partner was in deep shock, and after much use of crisis training, I was able to contact the partner’s son.

After the son arrived, he was able to take a more practical approach to the matter, and we began to walk through each step with the grieving partner. After the investigation had been concluded, I stayed a while to ensure a network of support was established.

A few days later, I returned to the address to check on the grieving family members. The son showed me into the room where the suicide occurred, I could not believe the cleanliness and order of the room! I then spoke to the partner who not only thanked me, but sung praises for the cleaner who arrived. The cleaner was sympathetic, professional, and respectful. I was told the name of the cleaning company: Raven Recovery.

Some things stay with you throughout your career in law enforcement, your first crime scene, your first dead child, and so many other hideous things. I have been fortunate enough to see some very good things too; people working together, community spirit, and now knowledge of a company who takes its’ job as seriously, passionately, and professionally as I do.

As I have said, I cannot endorse, refer, or suggest any business as it would be viewed as an impropriety by my agency; I can, however, say that my experience in dealing with those who have suffered a tragic loss was made easier by the professionalism of Raven Recovery.

Thank you for your time, stay safe, and be well.

“Kenny”

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