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The police's handling of deaths at home

Published:Monday | August 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Angela Patterson, Contributor

In response to the article 'Mislabelling deaths at home', published in The Gleaner on Monday, July 28, 2014, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is obliged to provide the public with the standard operating procedures (SOP) established for its members when dealing with deaths at home.

Once a call is received at the station about a death at home, the following obtains:

1. The scene should be visited by a police officer at the rank of sergeant or higher. If there is no sergeant present at the station, the shift commander (police providing overall supervision for the division) should be consulted.

2. The first responder (first police officer arriving at the scene) will determine (supported by making enquiries of relative/health-care providers and observations) whether the deceased:

(a) Was ailing and under the care of a physician.

(b) Visited the doctor or hospital within the last three months.

(c) Had any known medical condition(s).

(d) Had showed any sign of trauma or the scene reflects any sign of violence.

3. The police officer will then complete the first responder's form.

4. If there is no sign of foul play and where previously known medical conditions existed, the officer will instruct the family to obtain a medical certificate showing the cause of death from the attending physician/medical facility and to contact a funeral home of their choice.

5. If the officer has reason to believe that death was not from a natural/medical cause, the officer must contact the government-contracted funeral home for that area and make arrangements for the scene to be processed.

6. The officer must collect a body receipt from the funeral home.

7. The officer must then submit an autopsy requisition form to the Legal Medicine Unit stating the circumstances and the reason for the police investigation of such death.

Post-mortems will be performed by the Legal Medicine Unit where the deceased falls into one of the following categories:

a. Homicide

b. Motor vehicle accident

c. Suicide

d. Hanging

e. Blunt-force trauma (fall/crush victims)

f. Poisoning or suspected poisoning

g. Drowning

h. Workplace accidents

i. Asphyxia (e.g., choking or exposure to environs where victim was denied air)

j. Sudden deaths (victims with no known medical conditions that could have contributed to demise)

k. Suspicious deaths (foul play suspected)

l. Sudden unexplained death of an individual who appeared healthy. Inclusive of:

a. Deaths occurring within 24 hours of a surgical operation.

b. Death on arrival or deaths occurring within 24 hours of admission to hospital, provided that the patient had not been seen by a doctor within 72 hours of death.

c. Maternal deaths, including those resulting from termination of pregnancy.

Where the body is removed to the contracted funeral home and it is established that the police no longer have an interest and the release letter is issued by the police, the relatives must have the body removed within 48 hours if the services of the contracted funeral home will not be utilised. Failure to have the body removed within the stipulated time will see storage charges being incurred, which will be borne by the deceased family.

If there is any uncertainty on the part of the police what procedure to adopt, contact should be made with the Legal Medicine Unit for guidance.

We trust this will clarify the matter to the satisfaction of your readers.

Angela Patterson is director of the JCF Corporate & Special Services Branch. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and angela.patterson@jcf.gov.jm.