Bearing bad news: Officers: Notifying next of kin after death is no easy taskIt’s the hardest job some law enforcement officers say they have. The reaction is always different, said the Rev. Scott Block, volunteer law enforcement chaplain, but most people usually know what’s coming when they open their front door to find an officer and a pastor.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
By Ben Rodgers
The Jamestown Sun
It’s the hardest job some law enforcement officers say they have.
The reaction is always different, said the Rev. Scott Block, volunteer law enforcement chaplain, but most people usually know what’s coming when they open their front door to find an officer and a pastor.
“I don’t think there’s a typical reaction,” Block said. “I liken it this way: It’s if I just walked up to them and punched them in the stomach.”
Block handles death notifications locally. Local agencies are responsible for delivering the news, even if residents die in a different community.
The procedure for people who die here from out of state is to contact law enforcement in that community, according to Sgt. Josh Rude, North Dakota Highway Patrol.
That was the case when six men from Missouri died in a crash here on Wednesday.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol worked with the Springfield (Mo.) Police Department. The next of kin for some of the victims in Wednesday’s crash lived in Mexico.
The NDHP contacted the Mexican Consulate in St. Paul, Minn., to deliver the news, Rude said.
The task is something that can fall onto any branch of local law enforcement here, whether it’s the patrol, Jamestown Police Department or Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office.
Block and Rude have worked together before. Twice last summer the pair had to inform next of kin of a death.
“I can’t think of anything more difficult than that,” Rude said.
It’s a job no one volunteers to do, he said, but something the trooper deems necessary.
“That’s not something I’m going to assign to somebody else, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody,” Rude said. “That’s just part of the job as a supervisor — you get the call and its part of your duty.”
Most times people that open the door are in shock or denial before a word is even uttered. Rude called it “raw emotion.”
Having a pastor there on his own volition helps provide support for everyone involved, he said.
“It’s hard to put it in words but I’m able to remain calm in times of severe crisis,” Block said. “It’s not only helpful for the police officer and the family but it’s also helpful for me.
“I feel that God surrounds me and upholds me as I deliver this really difficult news. It doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings or I don’t feel a sense of loss or sadness but it shows up later, not at the time I’m with the family.”
Block underwent training in Bismarck to serve as a law enforcement chaplain and the decision to put himself into emotional situations was his.
“I seem to have a gift for being with people in a time of crisis,” he said.
Block will stay at the house with the family until someone from their church or their family can be there to provide comfort and emotional support.
“I’m ecumenical as far as that and I think being able to do that is helpful too, to come at from a theological standpoint, a religious standpoint — that helps with my anxiety,” he said.
Block has gone on four local calls in the more-than-two years he has held the position. His goal at each one has been the same.
“I don’t leave until the situation is calm or quiet,” he said. “I will not leave them alone.”
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at email@example.com