When a police officer dies in the line of duty, shouldn’t they receive proper respects? Grieving families and poorly remembered officers, after all, make the pain run deeper. Unfortunately, many police agencies don’t have the resources to undertake large-scale official funerals.
Since the state of Missouri was established in 1821, it has suffered more than 620 line-of-duty deaths, many of them in recent years. When two policemen were murdered in the suburban St. Louis community of Kirkwood on Feb. 7, 2008, a group of officers came together to begin creating the Missouri Law Enforcement Funeral Assistance Team (MLEFAT). Over the past year, these officers have devoted hundreds of hours creating this new organization. They have assembled a Missouri-specific law enforcement funeral guide, created a structure to establish funeral response teams and developed training criteria for volunteers who will assist police departments and officers’ families through the aftermath of a line-of-duty death.
The MLEFAT responds only when the agency that sustained the loss requests help. The team serves in a behind-the-scenes capacity, offering suggestions on the basis of the needs of the department and the fallen officer’s family, including providing personal support as well as help with logistics and funeral planning. The team utilizes the incident command system and prepares incident action plans. A key strength of the team is its professionalism tied in with a genuine dedication to properly honoring a fallen officer.
The team also can assist the fallen officer’s family in obtaining the benefits they are due. This effort is led by members of the Missouri Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), who have been trained in completing the public safety officer benefits application process. The team will also help to plan and carry out services for active-duty officers who pass away while off duty, as well as for retired officers
Team managers are currently organizing several statewide subgroups, including a motor officers group to assist with providing funeral procession escorts, a mounted honor guard and a chaplain group that will provide spiritual support for the fallen officer’s family and agency. A statewide pipe and drum corps and an honor guard group have been formed to assist in honoring fallen comrades.
In time, our plans include deployment of trailers equipped to assist in carrying out appropriate memorial services, including casket flags, military service flags, honor guard supplies, mobile public address systems, mourning bands and so on. We have developed a comprehensive list of supplies that might be needed for any type of service, and we are undertaking efforts to raise the estimated cost of $17,500 for such a fully equipped trailer.
Initial steps have been undertaken to establish a response team in the Kansas City area, with personnel from the Gladstone Department of Public Safety leading such efforts. We hope to have this response team ready by mid-2009. Our long-term goal is to have four or five response teams with equipment trailers across the state.
To train those who are interested in participating on the response teams, the MLEFAT anticipates hosting a training cadre from a similar program in Indiana in the next few months. Indiana’s team, one of a small number of statewide teams, is well recognized for its efforts to train personnel in carrying out law enforcement funeral services. Our team plans on hosting training classes to help officers with death notifications, and to help individuals learn how to play the bagpipes. Efforts are also under way to host an honor guard academy.
Our team received its first request for assistance from the University City Police Department, following the murder of Sgt. Michael King on Oct. 31, 2008. The MLEFAT, along with an existing fire service team in Missouri, helped plan and carry out the funeral services.
At Sgt. King’s funeral, the police and fire teams worked side by side, with law enforcement officers taking the lead and fire service personnel serving as mentors. This was a valuable learning experience and was helpful in ensuring that all the necessary arrangements were made and needs met.
“Planning funerals of this magnitude is an incredible task,” wrote Susan King, widow of Sgt. King. “After being part of one, I am still overwhelmed by the sheer size and logistics involved. And yet I am amazed at how flawlessly everything worked together and was absolutely perfect ... a fitting tribute to my husband. Needless to say, I was very distraught at the time and they took care of everything down to the last detail. The members of the team that I worked with were kind and compassionate; they brought me comfort during that difficult time. I cannot thank them enough for all the time and effort they put into honoring my husband.”
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