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Honor Guard 101: Line of Duty Funeral Protocol

Honor Guard 101: Line of Duty Funeral Protocol

Photo: Fairfax County Police Department Honor Guard

Lt. Ken Baine / Fairfax County Police Department

You get one chance to make a first impression. This is the motto all Honor Guard commanders and coordinators should have when planning the funeral of a fallen officer. I have had the unfortunate task of coordinating three line-of-duty funerals for the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department in my 18 years on the team. It will be one of the most challenging and exhausting things you will ever do. Trust me.

It is an unfortunate reality that one of your officers can be killed in the line of duty at any time. In this article, I will provide an overview of what my experience has taught me it takes to staff a police funeral.

In 2000, when I became the coordinator we had 15 Honor Guard team members. I have since increased that number to 40. A line-of-duty funeral takes an absolute minimum of 21 team members. The breakdown is as follows:

Pallbearers 6
Flag team 6
Firing Party 8
Funeral Commander 1

That said, I can tell you that 21 team members will not get the job done. For example, what if one of your team members is on leave, sick or too emotionally upset about the fallen officer to participate? To be on the safe side, you will need at least 30 team members for a line-of-duty funeral. If you are a small agency, have a plan with neighboring departments you can turn to if that time comes. You will no doubt need to lean on other agencies for help.

The officer’s family will dictate what honors will be included in each funeral. We must remember to respect their wishes first, however, as commanders and coordinators it is our duty to explain the importance of all these honors to the officer’s family during the funeral planning.

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Traditional honors recommended for a line-of-duty police funeral should include:


Color Team

Firing Party



Black bunting on a cruiser

Black bunting on station

The Fairfax County Police Department also offers these additional honors for the funeral of our fallen officers:

Vocalist at the funeral service or graveside

Helicopter flyover

Radio last call

White dove release

It is very important to know what to do if that day comes. I have attended and studied almost 50 line-of-duty funerals, yet still find things that can be improved in our own services. Are you ready if that call comes today?

This article is the first in a series of articles by Lt. Ken Baine covering all aspects of running a police Honor Guard and detailing each honor given at a line-of-duty funeral.

  • Steve_mcqueen_max50


    almost 4 years ago


    I have had the dubious privilege of attending over a dozen Police Officers Funerals during my tour of duty. The important thing to remember is that we as fellow Officers must always give our departed brethren a send off for the remaining Family Members. Funerals are for the living and especially the Family Members who are at the lowest ebb of their lives. The better we can do , the better we look , the better the Family memories of that day. The Family will always remember the condolences and the sincerity stated by each and every officer whether knowing the departed or not. We are all Family and united in out loss wishing to acknowledge our sorrows. In doing so , the Family has a modicum of hope for the future without the departed. Every Police Department should have a protocol such as list above so as to not miss on any important implementations.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago

    I think this was an excellent article. I feel it would be a very hard duty to carry out. I'm proud of those that practice and honored by those that can. It to me is the highest honor you can pay the fallen officer. Bless you all.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    Sad topic, good article.

  • Bronzestarribbon_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Good to know as I've only been invovled in one and since the family wanted military honors, our involvement was high profile, but not as in depth. I appreciate the things to consider.

  • Car6_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Good article, love the honor guard.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 6 years ago


    I was in the Marine Corps. for 2 months, before i got sent home for asthma. We constantly drilled and it was hard core drill, almost as intense as the Silent Drill Team. But, I still practice the drills everyday, because it has been engraved in my head. If I'm every called to do a funeral detail, I'll already know what 2 do and how 2 help everyone else look really professional.

  • Dogs_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Another article with great information, Lt. I commented earlier on your article on Honor Guards for fallen officers, but also unfortunately know first hand how important they are in dealing with officers who are killed in the line of duty. My first cousin was 34 years old and was killed on motorcycle patrol. The funeral was a killer, but the Honor Guard was comforting. One extra practice done in his funeral was the riderless horse with his motorcycle boots facing backwards in the stirrups of the saddle. It was too much, and still hurts. Thank you for taking the time to write these articles. Law enforcement, and military funerals just cut to the heart of those of us who are in the same profession, retired or active. Thanks.

  • In_remembrance_of_oakland_pd_max50_max50


    over 6 years ago


    As a member of our Dept.'s Honor Guard we have had 3 in the line of duty funerals in the last year in our area. They can take a toll on you watching the family cope with the loss. However, I believe that it is the greatest honor we can give to the family.

  • Vivian_alone_max50


    over 6 years ago


    As a former Assistant Commander of the Fulton County Sheriff's (Atlanta, Ga) Honor Guard, it is the most difficult time not only for the Department, but most definitely for those of us who steps in to carry out such details.

    And with each detail things never seen to be the same, and being able to keep things under control in those trying times, you always needs to have that relief factor.

    This is great I am downloading the info to attend your training.

  • Badge_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Thanks for this great article. Very informative.

  • Usmc_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Thank you for a great article. I have forwarded the URL to my Honor Guard Commander. Our Honor Guard is very new and has a great deal of work to do before we are ready to meet the standards for our mission. We have attended the Minnesota LEMA Honor Guard Camp and are putting into practice the valuable material we have learned. This is a great resource not only for the team members but for the Department Commanders to see and digest. Bringing the details of just how involved a line of duty police funeral is will help us gain support for the time and training we need.

  • Trigger_max50


    over 6 years ago


    This is a great resource. Nobody really considered this until it was needed in our county. Thank you.

  • Bicycle_mechanic_max50


    over 6 years ago


    Good article. I am one of the newer deputies and have recently been put in charge of our departments Honor Guard. This is a great article to start gathering knowledge on one of the most important tasks a Law Enforcement Officer can honor to a fallen brother.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 7 years ago


    Very useful information.

  • Dscn4424_max50


    almost 7 years ago


    Thanks for the info.

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