Discovery Guides Areas


The Bad News Bearers:
The Most Difficult Assignment in Law Enforcement

(Released May 2009)

podcast link 
  by Emil Moldovan  


Key Citations





Death notification is a difficult, unwelcome, although essential assignment. Survivors can suffer terrible and long-lasting grief following a poorly delivered and badly prepared death message. The loss of family members is traumatic to survivors. When the death results from a homicide, suicide or accident, grief can be amplified by the notification process. If the death involves a child, it could be the single most catastrophic event imaginable. (Janzen, 2003-2004) The process of aiding grieving family members begins from the moment they get the news of their loved one's death. All notifiers, whether from law enforcement, mental health, military, or private industry, should understand what they do or say in their brief encounter may well set the tone for the family's long-term ability to survive the ordeal of losing a loved one. (Miller, 2008b)

official letter
A World War II Death Notification
The messengers also can suffer from difficulties in their emotional balance due to associative factors and continued exposure relating to their work assignments. Whether it is a law enforcement officer, medical clinician, chaplain, social worker or death investigator delivering the devastating news, it behooves the person to possess as much training, experience and empathy for the grieving family as possible.

Unfortunately, research indicates that when death notification personnel are poorly trained, survivors as well as the bearers of the news may suffer consequences. The damage to the relationship between families and the notifying agency can be manifested at later dates or during other encounters. It often leaves survivors with lingering unanswered questions relating to the deaths of their loved ones and contributes to emotional difficulties for future re-entry into a normal lifestyle. Recommendations for additional and more intensive training are indicated for law enforcement agencies, and others, who must carry the burden of being the bad news bearers. (Page, 2008)

© 2009, ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.

List of Visuals


  1. Alvarez, L. (2006, April 4). Information Clearing House. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from In Notification of Army Deaths, More Pain:

  2. California Government Code 27471a. (2009, 2 28). Find California Code. Retrieved February Saturday, 2009, from WAIS Document Retrieval: Retrieved May 2009

  3. California Government Code Section 27491. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2009

  4. Clark, D. B. (1981). A Death In The Family: Providing Consultation to the Police on the Psychological Aspects of Suicide and Accidental Death. Death Education, 5, 143-155.

  5. Connecticut Police Officer Standard and Training Council . (2008, September 2). Retrieved May 2009, from Connecticut State Police:|

  6. Crime Victim Assistance Division Iowa Department of Justice. (1992, September). In Person, In Time - Recommended Procedures for Death Notification. Death Notification Guidelines. Des Moines, Iowa: Crime Victim Assistance Division.

  7. Crissman, M. A. (2002). Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from Notifications of Death:

  8. DeSpelder, L. A. (2002). The Last Dance - Encountering Death and Dying. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

  9. Dublin, V. P. (2008, July 1). Department Policy on making a death Notification. No. 2-41 Death/Serious Injury Notifications. Dublin, Virginia: Dublin Police Department.

  10. Epperson, M. M. (1977). Families in Sudden Crisis. Social Work in Health Care, 2 (3), 265-273.

  11. Frantz, T. T. (1996). Religious Aspects of Bereavement. Pastoral Psychology, 44 (3), 151-163.

  12. Goodrum, S. P. (2005). The Interaction Between Thoughts and Emotions following the News of a Loved One's Murder. Omega, Journal of Death and Dying, 51 (2), 143-160.

  13. Janzen, L. C. (2003-2004). From Death Notification Through the Funeral: Bereaved Parents Experiences and Their Advice To Professionals. Omega, Journal of Death and Dying, 48 (2), 149-164.

  14. Jones, W. & Buttery, M. (1981). Sudden Death: survivors' perceptions of their emergency department experience. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 7, 14-17.

  15. Kim, T. W. (2006, June 1). Retrieved March 28, 2009, from

  16. Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.

  17. Lang, T. V. (1997). Evidence Dismissed - The Inside Story of the Police Investigation of O.J. Simpson. New York: Pocket Books Division of Simon & Shuster, Inc.

  18. Laurie, A. N. (2008). African Americans In Bereavement: Grief As A Function Of Ethnicity. Omega - Journal of Death and Dying, 57 (2), 173-193.

  19. Leash, R. M. (1994). Death Notification: A Practical Guide to the Process. Arkansas City, Kansas: Gilland Printing.

  20. LoboPrabhu, S. M. (2008). The After-Death Call to Family Members: Academic Perspecctives. Academic Psychiatry, 32 (2), 132-135.

  21. Miller, L. (2008a). Counseling Crime Victims - Practical Strategies for Mental Health Professionals. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

  22. Miller, L. (2008b). Death Notification For Families Of Homicide Victims: Healing Dimensions Of A Complex Process. Omega - Journal of Death and Dying, 57 (4), 367-380.

  23. Miller, L. (1995). Tough guys: Psychotherapeutic strategies with law enforcement and emergency services personnel. Psychotherapy, 32, 592-600.

  24. Murphy, S. A. (1999). PTSD Among Bereaved Parents Following the Violent Deaths of Their 12-to-28-year-old Children: A Longitudinal Prospective Analysis. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 12 (2), 273-291.

  25. Nardi, T. J. (2006). Communicating Bad News: A Model for Emergency Mental Health Helpers. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 8 (3), 203-207.

  26. National Vital Statistics Report. (2002). Leading Causes of Death in the United States. Washington, D.C.: National Statistics Report.

  27. Office of the Attorney General for the State of Iowa. (1992). In Person, In Time - Recommended Procedures for Death Notification. Attorney General for the State of Iowa, Crime Victims Assistance Division. Des Moines: Crime Victims Assistance Division.

  28. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, West Virginia. (2007, March 1). Certification, The West Virginia Handbook For Performance of Death Investigation and. Certification.

  29. Page, D. ( 2008, March 1). Death notification: Breaking the bad news. Law Enforcement Technology, 1-5.

  30. Rando, T. A. (1996). Complications in Mourning Traumatic Death. In K. J. Doka, & K. J. Doka (Ed.), Living with Grief After Sudden Loss (pp. 139-159). Washington, D.C.: The Hospice Foundation of America.

  31. Rynearson, E. K. (1984). Bereavement After Homicide: A Descriptive Study. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 141 (11), 1452-1454.

  32. Satterfield, K. W. (2009, February 3). Personal Correspondence.

  33. Sewell, J. D. (1994). The Stress Of Homicide Investigations. Death Studies (6), 565-582.

  34. Sewell, J. D. (1991). Traumatic Stress of Multiple Murder Investigations. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6 (1), 103-118.

  35. Sewell, J. D. (1993). Traumatic Stress of Multiple Murder Investigations. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6 (1), 103-118.

  36. Stewart, A. (1999). Complicated Bereavement and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Following Fatal Car Crashes: Recommendations For Death Notification Practice. Death Studies, 23 (4), 289-321.

  37. Stewart, A. (2001). Death Notification Education: A Needs Assessment Study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 14 (1), 221-227.

  38. United States Army Signal Center, Fort Gordon, Ga. (2002, Augusst 1). Casualty Notification Guide for the Casualty Notification Officer. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from Military Personnel Services Division:

  39. US Department of Justice. (1999). Death Investigation: Guide for the Scene Investigator. Washington, D.C.: US Department of Justice.

  40. Von Bloch, L. (1996). Breaking the Bad News When Sudden Death Occurs. Social Work In Health Care, 23 (4), 91-97.

  41. Wilson, B. (2006, May 1). Standardized Law Enforcement Funeral Protocol. Police Chief: The Professional Voice of Law Enforcement, 73 (5).

  42. Zoroya, G. (2006, October 29). Army focuses on better relations with next of kin. Retrieved May 2009, from