“We can never underestimate the power of carefully chosen words delivered compassionately.” …..Kathryn Turman, FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance
In the fall of 2016, I happened upon some intriguing information regarding a unique program designed to assist law enforcement and other first responders concerning a better, more compassionate manner to conduct a death notification. As with every potential radio podcast, I began to research and contact various parties about whom I read. This program was collaboration between the Pennsylvania State University Police and the FBI.
Many kudos goes out to Rebecca Bywater of the Pennsylvania State University Police for pointing me toward a public relations director with the FBI. I was excited at the prospect of having san FBI agent as a guest on Shattered Lives Radio. Very cool, I thought.
However, ultimately, I was denied with no explanation or return call whatsoever. I tried to follow-up with my FBI contact. I had worked very diligently to make this show happen, as I always do, but ultimately, it fell apart. This has happened many times in the past and is a source of frustration for all radio hosts who care about quality. Ironically, it roughly coincided with the controversy with FBI Chief James Comey regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails at the end of October. That was a big PR disaster and I was small potatoes in comparison. It appears the FBI never offers explanations, they just do things and that’s it, no matter how socially redeeming your project might be!
In addition, I tried to contact an educational leader in death notification at North Georgia College and State University who had retired. Therefore, the reason for this blog as a second best attempt to build awareness.
Ironically, FBI Director Comey actually spoke at the event announcing this death notification initiative during National Crime Victim’s Rights Week in 2016. All the more reason to publicize a positive initiative!
During the most tragic events that occur, violent crime, vehicular crashes, suicides, deaths of undetermined causes and the like, often that first interaction with law enforcement or first responders stays with families and colors their lives forever.
Therefore, as a society we have a responsibility to notify with care and sensitivity. It seems common sense to say that under no circumstances should any death notification be made over the phone even when families are geographically distant.
Although the International Association of Police Chiefs have a model to use for death notifications, there has been no systematic approach to track who uses it. Regarding whose role it is to notify can depend upon jurisdiction and manpower, with a police officer typically notifying versus a medial examiner of coroner. In an article in Officer.com, there were as few as 15 courses in death notification ~ 2008.
Police Chaplains have been delegated this duty in the past and are more adequately prepared. However, they may not be as welcome in homicide cases due to investigative techniques.
Another little known resource is a specialty known as TIP- Trauma Intervention Program, which is composed of trained volunteers providing immediate support too those traumatized in the aftermath of tragedy. This program began in San Diego in 1985 by mental health professional Wayne Fortin with over 250 communities covered nation wide. Volunteers are trained in crisis intervention have special value, in that they are able to stay with families for several hours, supplementing the role of law enforcement. Frequently, TIP directors are psychologists or registered nurses, or other allied health professionals.
Death Notification Training – “We Regret to Inform You…” is a 45 minute, 34 page free online learning training tool.
This tool was devised via a collaboration with the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, the Office of Victim Assistance, the Office of Partner Engagement, and Pennsylvania State University’s Police Public Safety Group, and their public broadcasting station , WPSU.
The video is introduced by Karen Schmoyer, mother of murdered daughter, Charlotte, a newspaper delivery girl found buried under leaves in Allentown, Pennsylvania on June 11, 1993. Very little information could be located, but for the fact that her killer, Harvey Miguel Robinson was thought to be among the youngest serial killers in history. I am more interested in Karen’s notification, as with the murder of my father, our family’s was horrific as well.
The training includes an assessment tool, a second module that provides re-enactments of proper death notifications, a resource section with web links, a grief brochure for families and a pocket guide to death notification for team members. The content is based on best practice standards and takes into consideration variables such as cultural differences, language barriers, those living abroad, mass casualties, assisting children, the elderly, the role of victim assistance and more. Once a passing grade is given a certificate is issued. Link to online training –http://www.deathnotification.psu.edu.
I will attempt to take the training and encourage others who work in victim services to do so. I’m sure we could provide the most valuable feedback.! In fact, the experience might lend itself to a follow-up blog.
Questions regarding the training should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moral of this story-
I would ask, why do survivors of crime need Director Comey or anyone in the FBI defining compassion? It is my hope that victims who have walked the path had a major influence in the content of the “We Regret to Inform You…” program versus government officials. We may never know, as the FBI doesn’t typically return phone calls unless it is on their terms.
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