Mourning in the Era of COVID-19: How Police Funerals Have Changed

Amid the "social distancing" orders issued by various state governors and local authorities, police officer funerals have changed dramatically.

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At least 316 million people in at least 42 states have been urged to stay at home and not assemble in large groups as a result of government mandates issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 93,000 Americans, and is likely to claim many more in coming weeks and months as researchers works diligently to find a vaccine.

Restaurants have been shuttered. Bowling alleys, bars, and billiard halls have been closed. Schools have been closed. Kids of all ages are now learning how to learn online while they learn about Magellan and Newtonian Physics and Shakespeare—it's like fixing the starboard engine on a jet airplane while in midflight.

Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, 63 American law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty since the first edicts had been handed down for "social distancing" and "stay at home" and "mandatory masks" in public places.

Changing How Ceremonies Are Conducted

Every one of you reading this has been to more police funerals than you care to talk about. I am merely a civilian in the law enforcement universe—I was never sworn, never gone 10-8—but through my writing and countless hours of police training I've been "sheep dipped" and feel a deep sense of connection with LEOs.

Like you, I've been to more LODD memorial services and funerals than I can accurately count. The most recent was following the murder of Officer Natalie Corona of the Davis (CA) Police Department in January 2019.

I was in attendance at her memorial service—I didn't go to the actual burial because I felt that would be an intrusion.

I didn't know Natalie. I do know that she was a bright young officer who came from a law enforcement family. I know that she was killed in cold blood while investigating a vehicle collision. And I am close friends with two guys who did know Natalie, so I drove from my San Francisco home to California's Central Valley to show my support for her family, her friends, and her fellow-officers.

The arena on the campus of UC Davis—which holds about eight thousand people—was packed.

Most of those present were uniformed officers—of course—but the seating sections set aside for civilians like me were full to capacity. There were people outside the arena who couldn't even get in.

Following the ceremony there was the funeral procession—there was the gauntlet. Cops stood ramrod straight as they do, but there were also countless hundreds—probably thousands—of people who came out, standing shoulder to shoulder, three or four rows deep, for several city blocks.

That type of assembly now cannot happen in most places—despite the fact that the First Amendment specifically enumerates the ability to gather with a group—because of executive fiat over the COVID-19 pandemic. The throngs of people are not there. The outpouring of support is measured only in how many people view the proceedings in a "live feed" on social media.

Indeed, amid the "social distancing" orders issued by various state governors and local authorities, police officer funerals have changed dramatically.

One example is the memorial service and funeral of James O'Connor IV of the Philadelphia Police Department. The viewing and funeral for the slain Philadelphia officer were postponed "indefinitely" due to the Coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.

O'Connor had been shot and killed while serving an arrest warrant.

It took two full months from the time of his death for a memorial service to be held, and even at that time, the ceremony was nothing like the gathering of thousands of people who came out to show support for the friends, family members, and fellow officers of Natalie Corona—the most recent of the many police funerals I've attended.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, "A limited number of people were allowed inside for the 10 a.m. memorial, while a large cavalcade of police officers and vehicles lined the street outside. Most in the church had to sit on opposite ends of the pews, and all had to wear masks. The proceedings were livestreamed."

O'Connor's son—also named James—said the restricted service was "not the way we want to say goodbye to my father."

Another example is the service held for Officer Jason Knox of the Houston Police Department. Dozens of Houston police officers gathered with Knox's family to honor the life of the fallen LEO, who was killed in a helicopter crash. In ordinary times, there likely would have been thousands—with officers from across the country getting on airplanes, dress uniforms neatly packed, perhaps even bagpipes stowed in the belly of the bird transporting them from their home airport to Houston.

That didn't happen.

The service was solemn and certainly showed that there was love and respect for the man some have described as "kind, gentle, generous and an honorable American."

Another example is Officer Mike Mosher of the Overland Park (KS) Police Department. His family, colleagues, and community members did their level best to honor him, but for the most part, it was online—public gatherings were discouraged, and frankly, many people have simply made their own personal decisions to avoid large groups.

Those that did want to venture outside chose to simply tie blue ribbons to the trees in their front yards—a lovely gesture to be sure, but not the same as packing a small arena or standing three-deep at the end of the gauntlet.

There are many other officers—altogether too many to list in this space—whose memorials and funerals were not as well attended in recent months as Natalie Corona's just over a year ago.

Times have changed, and people are changing too.

Moving Forward

Is it prudent to avoid large gatherings of thousands of people during this current health crisis? Of course it is. It's reasonable and rational to look at how this pandemic has spread to come to the conclusion that the way in which line-of-duty-death memorial services are vastly different now than they were just a few short months ago.

But the change in the vast volume of people who turn out to show their support—officers and civilians alike—certainly has its own, unique impact.

Community members who want to show their respects in person are watching the services online, with only the closest family members present in person at the proceedings.

Officers who want to get on an airplane and fly across the country to stand in the gauntlet are staying home. Those officers may play "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, but they do so in their living rooms or their dens or—much to the neighbors' chagrin—on the front lawn.

We are in a "new normal" in which the best course of action is to do our level best to be safe, use rational and reasonable measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and try to "flatten the curve" of the spread of COVID-19.

For the foreseeable future, police line-of-duty-death memorial services and funerals will not look like they did before the outbreak of Coronavirus. That's just a fact.

But when this thing is resolved, I'm guessing that the resolve of American police officers—really, all Americans who would take the time to honor a police officer's passing—will get right back at it.

Generally speaking, Americans are resilient nation.

Following Peal Harbor, the country came together. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the country came together.

Among those Americans are law enforcement heroes who have to come to terms with the fact that for at least a little while, LODD memorials and services will be different. The fact that the National Police Week Candlelight Vigil was done via "live stream" on the internet is what my cop friends would call a "clue."

Despite what the mainstream media would have you believe—showing video of people fighting in the local big-box store—Americans are coming together, but doing so by staying apart. So-called "social distancing" is a thing.

And that's okay—it's okay for now, at least.

Be well and be safe my friends.

Mask up.

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