Officer Down Aftermath

There has been a 43% increase related to officers who have died in the line of duty this year. That means there has been a 43% increase in the number of survivors of fallen officers.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, there have been 101 law enforcement in the line of duty deaths this year (through 8/6/10). 89 of these deaths occurred during the first six months. That represents a 43% increase compared to the first six months of 2009. In 2009 there were 127 in the line of duty deaths; 146 in 2008; 196 in 2007; 159 in 2006; and 165 in 2005. The number of survivors of these losses is staggering. Officers are family members, friends, co-workers, supervisors, mentors, first responders and role-models for a community. Their deaths impact others in countless ways. The average tour of duty for the officers killed in the line of duty this year was 12 years. The average age was 40.

COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors), an agency that helps agencies and survivors cope with the line-of-duty deaths did a study. This study revealed the shortcomings of agency preparedness to handle such crises.

  • 32% of surviving spouses of police officers killed in the line of duty met the criteria for having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • 39% of police agencies reported having any type of general orders in place for handling line-of-duty deaths.
  • Approximately 20% of agencies said that their formal policy came about as a result of a line-of-duty death.
  • Department size plays a role in whether a formal policy exists
  • Approximately 3/4 of large departments (1001-6274 officers) have policies
  • Approximately 1/2 of medium departments (51-1000 officers) have policies
  • Approximately 1/4 of small departments (2-50 officers) have policies
  • 80% of the departments handled death notification
  • 51% sent more than one officer to the survivor's residence, and
  • 77% send the chief or a high-ranking official. Only ten percent send one officer.
  • 13% of the police agencies actually train people for death notification.
  • 39% of agencies report policies to maintain contact with survivors after the funeral

The psychological impact on surviving officers is frequently severe related to the closeness he/she had with the fallen officer, the brutality of the crime, the frequent re-exposure to the incident by the media, and delays in the justice system. Reactions may include anger, grief, feelings of guilt related to the incident, "survivor guilt" - (it should have been me), a desire for revenge, anxiety with/without panic attacks, depression with feelings of helplessness/hopelessness, an increased sense of vulnerability, insomnia, nightmares, and aversions to places/people related to the incident/victim. Survivors need to know that these are frequent and common responses to a traumatic loss. If these symptoms do not subside within a reasonable length of time; intensify or effect the officer's personal or professional life; he/she should be referred to a mental health professional for assistance.

The COPS study also reported:

  • 90% of departments reported that the death of an officer had an emotional impact on other officers and resulted in trauma among those close to the scene.
  • Yet only 25% percent of the departments reported initiating psychological services for these officers.

If your department does not have a plan to help the families, friends, and peers of a fallen officer, there is an agency that can help. Concerns of Police Survivors (linked below) addresses the issues of in the line-of-duty deaths by helping both survivors and agencies. COPS provides the following recommendations to law enforcement agencies to develop policies to help in these tragedies:

  • Develop a formal policy relating to on-duty deaths if none presently exists. Existing policies should be continually updated, to reflect current benefits, procedures and legal factors.
  • Formal training for officers on death notification. This is essential for compassionate notification of law enforcement families and the public as well.
  • Hold regular informational seminars for officers and spouses on what support services are available to law enforcement personnel following such a death.
  • Make available psychological services, grief counseling and trauma counseling (short and long-term) for survivors of line-of-duty deaths. The term "survivors" includes affected co-workers as well as family of the fallen officers.
  • Adopt plans to offer psychological and/or other services (i.e. day care) for children of deceased officers.
  • When an officer death occurs, appoint a trained officer to act as liaison with survivors to ensure the family's needs are met.
  • Develop a standard for follow-up with survivors. One suggestion is that both high ranking and patrol officers schedule visits for survivors for at least two years after the officer's death.
  • Provide media support for survivors who choose to deal with the media. Perhaps assign a public relations officer to be present during media contact.
  • Because physical health among co-worker survivors tends to worsen following the death of an officer, departments should make physicians available for immediate physical examination and follow-up aftercare of other officers after the death of a colleague.
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