15.055 - Death Investigation

Effective Date: 03/01/2016

This policy applies to all employees who investigate the death of a person.

15.055-POL

1. Patrol Officers Conduct the Primary Investigation of a Reported Dead Human Body

See 15.055-TSK-1 Primary Patrol Officer at Death Investigations.

2. Patrol Sergeants Respond to Dead Human Body Incidents

See 15.055-TSK-2 Primary Patrol Sergeants Responsibilities at a Death Investigation.

3. The Patrol Sergeant Responding to a Death Investigation Notifies the Appropriate Investigating Unit

The responding sergeant will notify the Homicide and Assault Unit, TCI, ABS, or FIT through Communications as directed below.

Homicide Unit is contacted for:

- Homicide

- Assaults with injuries likely to result in death

- Death investigations involving suspicious circumstances or possible abuse or neglect (including natural, accidental and adult suicide)

- Non-traffic related deaths involving a person under the age of 18

- Note: The Homicide Unit will screen all suicides of persons under the age of 18 and will assume investigative responsibilities if they respond.

- Death of any on-duty police personnel

- Missing person or kidnapping that becomes a homicide

- Found bones that are likely human, such as a skull or a partial skeleton

- Industrial accidents resulting in death, either of a paid employee or a volunteer

Traffic Collision Investigation (TCI) Unit is contacted for:

- Traffic collisions resulting in the death of a person.

Arson Bomb Squad (ABS) is contacted for:

- Fire deaths or fire injuries likely to result in death. 

- Note:  The ABS sergeant may request the Homicide Unit respond

Force Investigation Team (FIT) is contacted for:

- Any in-custody death involving SPD or any death occurring at the King County Jail and King County Youth Service Center

The patrol sergeant responding to the scene may contact the Homicide/Assault Unit through Communications with questions involving a death investigation that does not fit into the above categories. The responding sergeant will leave a call back number with Communications.

4. A Watch Commander May Order Follow-up Units to Respond to the Scene of a Death

5. The Seattle Police Department is Responsible for On-Scene Command of Drowning, Dive Rescue and Near-Drowning Incidents

The Duty Captain will respond to all incidents involving a dive rescue, drowning and near drowning.

6. The Homicide Scene Sergeant Screens and Approves GO Reports for Homicides and Possible Homicides

Patrol Officers will inform the Homicide Scene Sergeant that the GO report is in the Approval Queue.

15.055-TSK-1 Primary Patrol Officer Responsibilities at Death Investigations

Patrol Officer

1. Secures the scene, protects the evidence, isolates witnesses and identifies suspects.

- Restricts access to other than essential personnel. Essential personnel include: Police, Fire, Medical Examiner staff, and Prosecutors.

- If the body or evidence is in imminent danger of being contaminated or damaged, moves the body or evidence only to the extent necessary to preserve its evidentiary value. (If possible, photographs the body or evidence prior to being moved.)  If the body or evidence was moved, documents this in the GO Report.

- Notes the position and description of the body in relation to the surroundings, and the presence or absence of any weapons.

- Does not remove evidence or property from the scene unless directed to do so by the proper follow-up unit or the Medical Examiner’s Investigator.

2. Requests that a Patrol Sergeant respond to the scene.

3. Identifies all persons found at the scene and encourages them to remain until the arrival of a Patrol Sergeant.

4a. If the death appears to be of natural causes attempts to locate the deceased’s identification.

- This search may include the deceased’s clothing while making an effort not to significantly disturb the position of the body.  Photograph the body prior to conducting the search. (Also see 6a.)

4b. If a follow-up unit is responding to the scene, does not move or search the body or room for the person’s identification or other information unless directed to do so by a detective sergeant or Medical Examiner Investigator.

5. Photographs the scene using a Department-issued digital camera.

Note: Officers do not complete scene sketches as part of a death investigation. Instead, officers may take overview photos of the scene, taking care not to contaminate the crime scene . The priority is to coordinate the scene, isolate witnesses, and identify suspects.

Note: If a follow-up unit is not responding to a death investigation, the primary officer will thoroughly photograph the scene.

Note: Officers may take photographs of the exterior location and gathered crowds if applicable.

6a. If investigating a natural death:

(1). Collects all necessary information to support a natural death.

- If the death is associated with the Washington Death with Dignity Act (RCW 70.245), provides this information to the Medical Examiner.

- If the death is associated with the hospice program, follows the Hospice Deaths Instructions. (See 6b)

(2). Contacts the Medical Examiner at 206-731-3232. (Unless under hospice care, see 6b)

- If the primary officer and responding sergeant believe that a natural death has occurred, the Medical Examiner’s Office may arrange with the family for a funeral home to take custody of the body after the Medical Examiner’s Office verifies:

- The medical history of the deceased.

- The doctor of the deceased agrees to sign the death certificate.

- The family members of the deceased are available.

(3a). If the Medical Examiner does not respond, obtains the assigned "No-Jurisdiction Assumed" (NJA) number.

OR

(3b). If the Medical Examiner responds to take custody of the body, obtains the "King County Medical Examiner's" (KCME) case number.

(4). Stays at the scene until the body is removed or releases the body to a competent adult willing to accept the responsibility of staying with the body until the funeral home arrives.

- Important: Screens with the Sergeant for approval to leave the scene in another’s custody.

(5). Completes a General Offense Report including:

- Facts that support a natural death

- Medical history/medications

- Recent activities

- Complaints of illness or poor health

- Health care received

- The "NJA" or "KCME" number

- Health care professional(s) contact information

- Timeline leading up to the death

- Identity and contact information for any persons present at the scene or who may assist in providing information relevant to the death

- Description of the condition of the body and the location where it was found

- Description and disposition of valuable items found near the body or items relevant to the death

- Information of the person or agency taking possession of the body

6b. If investigating a death of a person under hospice care:

(1). Determines if the death appears to be natural (No signs of abuse or other suspicious circumstances)

(2). Determines if the deceased was under hospice care. (extended medical care evident, witness statements of hospice care, documentation)

(3). Contacts the hospice care provider and request they respond

(4). Screens the incident with an on-scene patrol sergeant

Note:  The hospice care provider will coordinate with the Medical Examiner’s Office upon accepting responsibility to handle the death and is responding.

(5). Releases the scene to a competent adult, or if a competent adult is not available, remains at the scene until the hospice care provider responds.

(6). Documents the circumstances on the event log as a hospice death.

(7). Clears the call with the MIR 330-Union.

6c. If investigating a natural death of a person in a hospital (such hospital must have a board-certified doctor who can sign a death certificate):

(1). Determines if the death appears to be natural (no signs of abuse or other suspicious circumstances).

(2). Screens the incident with an on-scene patrol sergeant.

Note:  The hospital will coordinate with the Medical Examiner’s Office, as appropriate.

(3). Releases the scene to hospital staff.

(4). Documents the circumstances on the event log as a natural death in a hospital.

(5). Clears the call with the MIR 330-Union.

6d. If investigating an accidental death (including an industrial accident) or suicide:

(1). Collects all necessary information to support an accidental death or suicide.

(2). Documents the position, condition, and description of the body.

(3). Documents available historical information of the deceased. (Regarding suicides: Include threats of suicide and mental health information)

(4). Identifies and interviews all witnesses.

(5). Contacts the Medical Examiner (206-731-3232) and requests an ME investigator respond to the scene.

(6). Obtains the KCME case number.

(7). Stays at the scene until the body is removed by the Medical Examiner.

(8). Completes a General Offense Report including:

- Facts that support an accidental death or suicide

- The "KCME" number

- Medical (Mental Health) history/medications

- Recent activities

- Complaints of illness or poor health

- Health care received

- Health care professional(s) contact information

- Timeline leading up to the death

- Identity and contact information for any persons present at the scene or who may assist in providing information relevant to the death

- Description of the condition of the body and the location where it was found

- Description and disposition of valuable items found near the body or items relevant to the death

- Information of who took possession of the body

6e. If investigating a possible homicide or death with suspicious circumstances:

(1). Obtains identification and contact information from all persons at the scene. Encourages witnesses to remain at the scene and talk with Homicide detectives.

(2). Requests the responding sergeant contact the Homicide and Assault Unit.

(3). Assists the detectives.

(4). Remains at the scene until relieved by the follow-up detectives.

(5). Completes a General Offense Report and Officer Statement documenting the information obtained at the scene and the release of the scene to the follow-up unit.

(6). If the officer writes a GO report for a possible homicide or death with suspicious circumstances, the officer informs the Homicide Scene Sergeant that the GO is in the approval queue.

15.055-TSK-2 Primary Patrol Sergeant’s Responsibilities at a Death Investigation

Patrol Sergeant

1. Responds in person to a dead human body call.

2. Assumes command of all patrol activities at the scene and assists the primary officer with their required tasks.

3. With the primary officer, determines the likely manner of death: natural, accidental, suicide, homicide or possible homicide/undetermined.

4. Contacts the proper follow-up unit if required.

5. Determines if a Crime Scene Log (form 9.26) is needed.

- Assigns an officer to maintain a crime scene log documenting who enters and exits the crime scene.

6. Screens the body from public view if practical.

Note: Supervisors or Officers may drape a Department emergency blanket over a body to keep from public view when necessary. Sealed, uncontaminated Emergency Blankets are available from the Quartermaster or Stationmasters.

7. Remains at the scene until released by the proper follow-up unit (if they respond).

8. Screens and approves all related reports generated by patrol for the incident.

Exception: All homicide and possible homicide General Offense Reports are screened and approved by a Homicide Sergeant.