A difficult moment for Police Officers

** Post by Sgt. Patrick Barbar

I recently came across a letter to the editor in the Winnipeg Free Press written by a Winnipeg Police officer. He wrote very honestly about a task that falls onto Police Officers that is emotionally devastating: notifying the next of kin after the death of a family member.

NOKs, as we refer to them in police jargon, are not something that is really spoken about, yet they are one of the most difficult tasks police officers are called upon to accomplish. In Saskatoon, the responsibility for NOK notifications falls upon the patrol supervisors. Four platoons patrol the city and respond to your calls for help, and each has three patrol supervisors – one for each of the geographical divisions. When a death occurs, accidental or otherwise, and families need to be notified, it is one of these 12 Sergeants who gets the call to deliver ‘the news’.

In the earlier years of my career with the SPS, I was very active with our local Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter. I was privileged to meet a lot of amazing people volunteering within the organization, many of whom had lost loved ones to an impaired driver. What struck me at the time was how vividly they all remembered the day they got the news. Every one of them was able to describe, with incredible detail, their account of when the police officer came to their door. They remembered what the officer looked like and the words he or she used. I was a young Constable at the time and had yet to be called upon to do an NOK notification, but still, the stories stuck with me.

I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant nearly 5 years ago. I’ve delivered the news to many families, and have always tried to keep the lessons I learned from my friends at MADD in mind.

A few years ago, on a cold winter’s night, I was tasked by the watch commander with not one, but two NOK notifications. Two men had been returning from a remote work camp. While still hundreds of kilometres from home, an impaired driver crossed the centre line. Both men were killed.

I pulled up to a townhouse to notify the first family. It was about two weeks before Christmas. The woman inside was in her sixties, and her son was all she had. To this day, I am in awe of her strength as I broke the news to her, choking back my own tears. It is our policy to have someone the person knows come to the house before we leave – a friend, family member or member of the clergy. Her employer was the best we could do. I left about 45 minutes after I had pulled up, I was emotionally drained but had to drive to the second address.

I rang the doorbell. The couple I had to give the news to were looking forward to starting a well deserved retirement. In an instant, I shattered their whole world. I felt done for the night. Unable to think straight, I drove back to the station and sat at my desk, hoping I’d be able to file some paperwork. I lost track of the time I spent staring blankly at my computer screen. I guess I just needed to not be a police officer for a few minutes.

I never wanted to live on in people’s memory as the one who gave them ‘the news’. But I know that it is important that it be done with compassion and dignity, so I reluctantly accept the responsibility. All I ask in return is that this Holiday Season and always, you make the right decisions before driving and look out for one another.


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10 Responses to A difficult moment for Police Officers

  1. Kris says:

    I pray that each and every officer placed in that position by choice or otherwise can have the strength and empowerment to find peace in the fulfillment of their duties knowing their sacrifices do not go unnoticed and that adorned appreciation for their selfless acts of such are overwhelmingly appreciated.

    Thank you

  2. Dallas says:

    Here I am in a restaurant eating my sandwich, choking back tears. It is stories like these that help me remember that no matter what, an officer is a human too, with thoughts and emotions much like my own. Thank you Saskatoon Police Services for the work that you do.

  3. Donna Hay says:

    Dearest members of ALL police services,
    Nearly nine years ago, two members of the Saskatoon Police Service became a part of my life and I will never forget them because they helped me make it through the most difficult night of my life.
    Just after midnight on Feb. 16th, 2005 I discovered my beautiful son had taken his own life. Alone in my house, frantic, horrified, and feeling more alone than I ever had been before…..EVER, I smashed the number pad on the phone until the #s 9-1-1 were correctly pressed. The kind soul on the other end asked, “…..what is your emergency?”.
    A blur of words and actions ensued, and before I knew it a truck full of capable firemen, an ambulance, and two of Saskatoon finest were at my house, all with the intent of 1) Saving my beautiful boy or 2) Holding me upright until I could process what had happened.
    When it was apparent that my wonderful son was “gone”, the firemen and paramedics left my home. The two police officers and an “acting Sergeant” stayed. They not only kept me upright…..they became part of my life and part of my future, as I remember with sincere affection and appreciation their help that night. They managed to somehow combine professionalism with a sense of compassion that I couldn’t imagine. There were hugs, there were tears (between all of us), and five days later at my incredible son’s funeral, who should I see in the large crowd? My two guardian angels who held me up the night my son died, and who were continuing to hold me up.
    I am, and will forever be, eternally grateful to Matthew and Corridawne.
    I didn’t know how to say,”Thanks”. “Thanks for carrying me through the most horrific night of my life.”
    I thought the only way I could at least try, would be to give a little back. And so, I became a volunteer for the Saskatoon Police Service. I do very, very, very, very little compared to what the men and women of that service do day in – day out, but to me it is the very least I can do.
    So I say, “God bless and keep each and every member of our police forces for they help in ways that are not always conveyed to them by those they help or save.”

    • Donna, I’m so very sorry for your loss but thank you for sharing your experience with our readers.

      • Donna Hay says:

        Thank-you so much Kelsie.
        I really just wanted to high light the fact that police officers not only have to notify “Next Of Kin”, but they are present in other very difficult and emotionally-charged situations like sudden deaths where family members are left completely horrified and stunned, not knowing what to do or where to turn. Members of the police service actually have the power to alter the course of healing for those who have to deal with such tragedy.
        I appreciate each and every one of them.

  4. Lee says:

    We got this sort of news almost 27 years ago to the day when my little sister was killed by a drunk driver. The professionalism and compassion of Regina City Police will never be forgotten. The officer’s name is Ken Greff. My sister was 12. Why do people still drink and drive?

  5. Glenn says:

    I was there twice in my life when Police Officers had to tell my friend that someone had died “their kids” on two different occasions. I hated it but especially on the second time, we all knew what was going on when they came to the back yard without saying a word. Tough job.

  6. Carter says:

    I can’t imagine how difficult that is, even as part of your towards someone you don’t know. The fact that people continue to make decisions that not only have the possibility of affecting their lives, but other people’s lives, and the lives of their friends, family members, children, and many other people, baffles me.

    Please make the right decision and please stay safe this holiday season. A $20 cab is a lot cheaper and easier than every single alternative.

  7. Patsplace says:

    Thanks for your service.

  8. Thank you for writing this.

    I am a P.C. with Toronto Police Service. I’m also the mother of a daughter who was murdered 6 years ago tomorrow.

    I would like to share with you my blog (above) and the link to a booklet I wrote – Seven Helpful Ways to Support Those Who Grieve. It’s free to download and might be of help to some of your readers!

    Happy New Year.

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