How police report death and how chaplains help


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from: Dierck Wittenberg

Pastor and policeman in exchange: Gerald Meier (left) and Domenico Corbo, chief of the Weyher police station. © Dierck Wittenberg

It’s one of the most difficult jobs a police officer can do: filing a death report. How do officials behave and what excites them? The police, the Weyhe hospice association and the evangelical Felicinas parish exchanged views on the matter.

Weyhe – “I have to tell you that your husband has been killed in a traffic accident.” How do police officers handle this when they have to deliver that message? Domenico Corbo, head of the Weyhe police department, recently talked about this with Gerald Meier, pastor of the Evangelical parish of Felicinas.

The delivery of knowledge about death: which institution comes when?

Hospiz Weyhe Association invited to Alte Wache. All three organizations can be involved when loved ones are dealing with death. That there’s a sequence was one of the evening’s insights from the Hospice Association audience of about 15: “First you come, then you come, and then we come,” summed it up. So: first the policeman, then the pastor, and finally the hospice association’s grief group.

Although this has also been discussed, there are certainly situations where officers seek help directly from the outside, such as a pastor or crisis response team. “When we leave and there’s no one else there,” Corbo described the situation. And in general: “When the circumstances are particularly tragic.”

Reporting deaths, including the circumstances surrounding them, is “one of the most difficult tasks we police officers have to deal with,” Corbo said.

Not every death is a police case. In addition to accidents, suicides or capital crimes, he identified another, more common group where police involvement is necessary: ​​if the doctor notes an unclear cause of death on the death certificate, a police post-mortem examination is required. That can be difficult to convey, Corbo said. After all, a cross in the wrong line of the death certificate means that a state institution is invading the private sphere of loved ones with the police.

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The police chief listed some principles for delivering death reports: they would always be delivered in person (not over the phone) and always in pairs. Always have an experienced colleague. “We discuss tasks as a team: who speaks, who holds back,” explained Corbo.

‘Time is not on our side’: Social media is a growing problem

Worse still, information spreads quickly on social media – including for the relatives of accident victims. “We are faced with a dilemma: the timing is not in our favor,” Corbo said. In the office, it is important to collect as much information as possible. Because there will certainly be many questions about the course of events.

“We make mistakes, too,” Corbo admitted. As an example, he gave the news about the death of an 18-year-old girl’s father. Only on the spot did it become clear that the young man’s mother had also died a few weeks earlier: a case in which the authorities would call the pastor.

Corbo described the moment before the doorbell rang: “We take another deep breath and know we’re about to change someone’s life.” Then came the steps: introduce yourself, walk in, ask to be seated. “Then the highest priority: the message must be sent immediately.”

Hospice Weyhe

Information about the bereavement group and hospice support, which is currently seeking new volunteers, can be found at: hospiz-weyhe.de.

If there are multiple people, he personally gathers them all to deliver the message, Corbo says. Also children who belong to the family. He had no negative experience with it. Here Gerald Meier agreed: “I think we can trust children more than we admit.” Children have a natural defense.

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According to Domenico Corbo, after the message was delivered, it means: wait and see. The fact that people react differently, they can leave the room, maybe do something to themselves: this is one of the reasons why the police come in pairs. When they left, the officers decided – with their eyes – on the spot. You stay for 15, 20, 30 minutes, sometimes an hour. “If we feel the situation is stable.”

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