Types of Law Enforcement Funerals

Most departments would categorize decedents into one of five general categories:

  1. Sworn
  2. Civilian
  3. Retired
  4. Separated
  5. Immediate family member

The type of funeral and level of honors accorded these decedents depends on both their category and the circumstances of death.

Category I: Line of duty death (LODD) of a sworn employee. The officer died while on duty or died after an incident that was the direct cause of the later death. Generally, a public event with full, military-style honors unless the family prefers a private service.

Category II: Non-LODD (or non-traumatic death) of a sworn employee. Department funeral with some military-style honors. May be public or private.

Category III: Death of a civilian employee. Whether these members are honored with a department funeral is up to departmental policy, but generally, this will be a non-public service with limited department involvement.

Category IV: Death of a retired or separated employee.

Category IV: Death of an employee’s family member.
Source: International Association of Chiefs of Police

Alternately, the types of funerals can be classified as formal (full military-style honors and traditions), semi-formal (some traditions and honors), non-formal, and private. Even if the death was in the line of duty, the family can elect to have a semi-formal or non-military service. If the family chooses a private service, the department can still hold a memorial.

Suicides present a dilemma to some departments, who feel that honoring a member who committed suicide may “tarnish the badge.” Many others (and the numbers are growing) treat a death by suicide as similar to a LODD and offer some or all honors.

Formal Funerals with Full Honors

A funeral for a line of duty death generally presents the family with many options and traditions for honoring their loved one:

  • 24/7 casket watch
  • Flag-draped casket
  • Uniform cap to place on the casket
  • Pallbearers (chosen by the family or assigned by the department)
  • Color guard
  • Funeral detail/honor guard
  • Vocalist at the funeral or graveside
  • Badge shrouds
  • Retirement of the officer’s badge
  • Bagpipers
  • Last radio call
  • Bugler for “Taps”
  • Ladder truck flag display
  • Eulogies by department personnel and dignitaries
  • Three-volley (or 21-bell) salute
  • Station/cruiser bunting
  • Formal procession to the cemetery
  • Riderless horse
  • Flag folding ceremony
  • Dove release
  • Flyover
  • Reception or luncheon

We can’t overemphasize the importance of both determining and respecting the family’s wishes in regard to the funeral service. Presentation of all options that the department can offer is paramount. Other topics to discuss would include whether there will be burial or cremation; whether they need help with housing for out-of-town relatives, child care, or transportation; who they would like to deliver eulogies; whether they want to designate a cause or charity in lieu of flowers; and other routine questions asked of any family suffering a loss.

Semi-Formal Funerals with Honors

In the case of an off-duty death of an active department member or affiliate member, the following honors may be given (subject to department protocol and family wishes):

  • Pallbearers
  • Color guard (optional)
  • Eulogies
  • A funeral detail/honor guard
  • Badge shrouds
  • A last radio call
  • Station/cruiser bunting

The department may decide to offer more honors.

Non-Formal Funerals with Honors

If the deceased was an affiliated or retired department member or the immediate family of an officer, non-formal honors may be given (subject to department protocol and family wishes):

  • A funeral detail/honor guard
  • Eulogies
  • Badge shrouds
  • A last radio call
  • Station bunting

Again, the department may decide to offer more honors. These options are dependent on the wishes of the deceased, the preferences of the family, and the resources of the affected department.

The department should be absolutely certain of its ability to provide a particular tradition or honor before it offers it to the family. For example, a flyover may be impossible, whether or not the family desires it. If the family wants a color guard, but the department is in a small community and doesn’t have its own color guard, it should confirm the availability of a color guard through another department or the American Legion or VFW before promising one for the funeral.

Contributor: Jenny Mertes

How Much Will Your Funeral Cost? Try Our QuickPlan to Find Out.