How To Cope With Seeing A Dead Body As A Police Officer

  • Time to Read: 11 min.

Police officers are often exposed to traumatic events, and one of the most difficult experiences is seeing a dead body. It can be an emotionally draining experience that leaves police officers feeling overwhelmed and helpless. This article will discuss how police officers can cope with such a situation. By understanding their reactions and utilizing proper coping strategies, they can manage this difficult experience in healthy ways.

Seeing a dead body as a law enforcement officer brings forth many emotions: fear, sadness, shock, guilt, anger and more.

All these feelings need to be acknowledged and understood before processing them further.

Police officers must take care not to suppress or push away any negative emotions, but rather accept them for what they are – a normal human response to a sadly normal event.

In addition to addressing their emotional reactions, it is important for police officers to have access to resources that support them during times of distress.

The presence of supportive colleagues who understand the difficulties of the job makes it easier for police officers to talk about their experiences, and find effective means of dealing with trauma-related stressors.

With access to these resources and knowledge on how to best cope with such extreme circumstances, police officers can develop resiliency when confronted with death.

Let’s have a look at what you can do to prepart yourself for, and how to cope with seeing a dead boady as a police officer.

Preparation For The Possibility Of Seeing A Dead Body

As a police officer, the prospect of encountering death is an intimidating one. Comprehending what it means to face mortality can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned veterans in law enforcement.

With this in mind, preparation for the possibility of seeing a dead body is essential.

The first step towards preparing oneself for such an experience is to develop a mental framework by which to process and understand the unimaginable.

This involves researching both through reading about other officers’ experiences or discussing with colleagues how they have handled similar situations.

It also includes exploring psychological strategies such as visualization techniques that enable officers to mentally prepare themselves for whatever situation may arise on duty.

By engaging in these practices, officers are better equipped to cope with difficult encounters like viewing a deceased individual without being overwhelmed by emotions.

Creating an emotional armor helps ensure that officers remain composed during such traumatic events while still maintaining empathy and professionalism when dealing with victims’ families and friends.

Additionally, educating oneself on the various steps taken after identifying a corpse can help create familiarity with procedures so that there is less shock associated with them if faced directly on-the-job.

Before you have to deal with your first dead body, talk to your colleagues. Ensure that you understand your local processes and procedures.

Ensure you understand;

  • Familiarise yourself with your local sudden death policy. This should cover all of the functions that you need to understand. Most forces will have two policies which will cover this, a sudden death policy and a sudden infant death policy.
  • Where are the bodies taken in certain circumstances
  • Differnet procedures depending on the location of the body, i.e, if it’s in a care home, residential address, or elsewhere
  • Ensure that you have a list of all of the relevant telephone numbers you may need

With increased awareness comes increased knowledge and understanding.

It may seem horribly clinical, but by understanding all of the processes and protocols that need to be follwed for dealig with dead bodies, you are less likely to attach an emotional response to the situation.

If you can, we would always recommend a visit to the mortuay prior to dealing with your first dead body.

Historically, this has been used as a ‘test’ for student officers, used by inappropriate tutors to ‘scare’ students. Hopefully times have moved on now.

However, if this is done in an appropriate, supportive manner, this can be a beneficial exercise.

Have a think whether you think that you would benefit from this. If so, ask your tutor, or Sgt to arrange for your to visit the local mortuary.

Get them to explain their processes to you and show you a number of dead bodies.

It can be beneficial if your first dead body is not one that you are also having to deal with as part of a call for service.

The Initial Response To Seeing A Dead Body

To many, seeing a dead body, this can be an overwhelming experience that leaves them feeling shocked and traumatized.

The initial response to witnessing a dead body as a police officer requires presence of mind.

It is important for officers to remain composed despite any emotional impact they feel at the time.

This allows them to respond quickly and accurately, taking all necessary steps such as preserving evidence, or gathering information from witnesses on site.

Officers should also keep themselves safe by wearing protective gear if needed and avoiding contact with the body whenever possible.

Ratioinalising Seeing Your First Dead Body

There is no doubt that seeing your first dead body is going to have an impact on you. I can still remember the first dead body I saw and it’s over a decade ago.

This is perfectly normal. Please do not think that it is anything else.

I still remember to this day that I saw the poor mans face when I went to sleep that night, and I can still remember it to this day.

This is normal though, and it shows that you have empathy as a human.

However, I have been to many many dead bodies since this time, a number of which have been horiffic, however, these have not stayed with me in the same way as that first body.

Dealing With Shock And Grief

It is common for those who witness a dead body to feel shock and grief. This reaction is normal given the gravity of the experience.

It may be difficult to process such intense emotions in an appropriate manner while on duty, however it is important that police officers understand how to manage their reactions while remaining professional.

One way of quickly managing these emotions is by allowing yourself time to reflect and find mental clarity through calming activities.

Deep breathing or meditation are effective methods which can help bring your mind back into focus before responding appropriately.

Additionally, talking with peers or supervisors about what happened might lessen some of the emotional burden and provide helpful insight from another perspective.

Dealing With the Family

I have always found that the hardest part of dealing with a dead body, is dealing with the family and freidns of the deceased.

They are normally understandably upset, and wanting answers to questions that you are unlikely to be able to answer.

Dealing with them can be the most emotionally draining part of dealing with a dead body.

Be prepared that sometimes families may get aggressive with you over the death of their loved one. This is a normal respons that you cannot take personally.

Appropriate Actions To Take After Seeing A Dead Body [Scene Management]

It is important for these officers to understand the appropriate actions to take after viewing a corpse.

The first step an officer should take upon encountering a deceased individual is to preserve the scene and ensure that all evidence remains intact until further investigation can be completed.

It is especially critical that no one touches or disturbs any items at the location in order to maintain its integrity so that investigators can obtain accurate data later on.

Another action officers must do when they come across a dead body is notify their superiors as soon as possible so that proper procedures may be implemented without delay.

This ties into what we advised above, with regards to understanding your local processes. This will include who to notify.

Officers also need to remain calm and composed while dealing with this situation in order not to cause unnecessary panic among other personnel and bystanders present.

This also means gathering relevant information about what happened at the site, like eye witness accounts if available, which could help law enforcement investigate crimes more effectively.

Additionally, police officers should pay attention to their own emotions during this event and be aware of signs indicating potential PTSD symptoms like difficulty sleeping, flashbacks, nightmares etc., as these require medical intervention right away.

Having effective coping mechanisms enables police officers to manage the psychological distress associated with witnessing mortality better so they are able to perform their duties efficiently even under difficult circumstances.

Knowing how to recognise and respond appropriately in such cases contributes greatly towards helping them stay safe emotionally and physically despite frequent exposure to death scenes which can have long lasting impacts on mental health over time.

Recognising And Understanding Post Traumatic Stress

Recognising and understanding post traumatic stress is a critical step for any police officer who has seen a dead body.

Through allusion, it can be said that the tragedy of death will leave an imprint on the mind – one which may or may not manifest as psychological trauma.

The effects of such trauma vary from person to person, however they often include feelings of guilt, regret and despair along with physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, fatigue and insomnia.

It is important to remember that these symptoms are normal reactions to experiencing highly stressful events, especially when coupled with having witnessed something so shocking as a dead body in a professional capacity.

If left untreated, this kind of distress can lead to further issues down the line including depression and anxiety disorders.

TIP: Acknowledge your own emotional state after seeing a dead body by taking time out each day to reflect on what you have experienced. This could be anything from writing in a journal or talking it through with someone close to you; whatever works best for you individually should be considered actively at this stage.

Receive Support From Colleagues

After understanding the effects of post traumatic stress, it is important to receive support from colleagues following a traumatic event such as seeing a dead body.

Specifically for police officers, having an open and supportive work environment can be crucial in coping with trauma. Here are some tips on how to connect with peers after experiencing something difficult:

1) Reach out and talk – Having conversations with co-workers who have had similar experiences provides comfort knowing that you aren’t alone in what you have gone through.

2) Take time off if needed – Taking time away from work, or frontline duties, can help process emotions related to the experience, without feeling rushed or overwhelmed by other responsibilities.

3) Participate in team building activities – Working together on projects or attending events outside of work creates positive relationships which will increase morale within the workplace.

4) Utilise employee assistance programs – Employee assistance programs provide professional counseling services free of charge to employees struggling emotionally or mentally due to any number of issues including being exposed to a traumatic event.

Having strong social connections at work allows for more opportunities to share experiences and build rapport among colleagues, aiding in ways to cope during times of difficulty.

It is also beneficial to set expectations beforehand about when talking about certain topics may not be appropriate so that everyone has an understanding of boundaries in the workplace.

Experiencing a traumatic event like seeing a dead body as a police officer does not need to lead one into isolation; instead finding support amongst colleagues serves as another tool towards healing.

Moving forward, self care after experiencing a traumatic event should become part of one’s routine in order maintain good mental health and stability going forward.

Self Care After Experiencing A Traumatic Event

A traumatic event, such as seeing a dead body while on the job as a police officer, can have long-term effects. One way to cope with the experience is to prioritse self care after the incident.

Self care strategies can vary depending upon individual needs and preferences, but there are some general guidelines that can be beneficial for all people in recovering from trauma.

The first step of self care is to acknowledge one’s emotions about the situation.

It may be uncomfortable or even frightening for someone who has just seen a dead body to explore their own feelings, but it is important to recognise how they are feeling and why.

This acknowledgment will help them process their emotions better and start developing coping techniques tailored to their specific needs.

Another component of self care is taking time away from work and other responsibilities when possible.

Taking breaks throughout the day and scheduling regular days off helps create a balance between work life and home life so that both can be enjoyed without feeling guilty or overwhelmed.

Additionally, engaging in enjoyable activities like hobbies or sports can provide an outlet for stress relief, boosting overall wellbeing and restoring energy levels more quickly than if they were neglected altogether.

Finally, connecting with others through conversation or shared experiences can also aid in recovery from trauma.

Reaching out to friends or family members for support during this difficult time will not only lift spirits but also build resilience against future traumas down the road by creating strong connections within social networks.

Communicating with peers who have experienced similar situations can further reinforce these bonds of trust and understanding which contribute greatly to successful healing journeys over time.

Knowing When To Seek Professional Help

Witnessing a dead body can be an incredibly traumatic event for any police officer, and it is important to recognise when professional help may be needed.

Seeing the impact of death firsthand can leave lasting psychological damage in its wake that requires specialised attention from qualified professionals.

It is essential that police officers understand how to identify signs indicating they need additional support beyond what self-care alone provides.

TRiM Assessment

Most police forces will have TRiM assessors.

TRiM stands for Trauma Risk Management.

TRiM is a trauma-focused peer support system, which is designed to assist people who have experienced a traumatic, or potentially traumatic, event.

Your TRiM assessor will ask you some questions and listen to what you have to say. From here they may signpost you to other resources which may be able to assist you.

Check out what your local force offers to support officers.


It may be that you need to seek further support throught your GP. Again, they may be able to signpost you to local support services in your area.


Seeing a dead body can be incredibly traumatic for police officers. It is important to actively prepare for this experience and understand how best to handle the situation, both in terms of self care and professional action. Through proper preparation and active awareness of the potential risks associated with seeing a dead body, police officers can better equip themselves to cope with such an event.

It is essential for police officers to take appropriate steps after witnessing a death. This may include debriefing with colleagues or supervisors, speaking out about their emotions and reactions, and seeking professional help if necessary. Additionally, it is beneficial for officers to practice healthy habits as part of their self-care routine; activities like exercise, meditating, journaling and spending time outdoors have been shown to reduce stress levels significantly following trauma. Finally, understanding post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms – including triggers that could cause flashbacks – will aid in preventing lasting psychological damage from occurring due to an incident involving a deceased person.

Do you have any top tips to share? Drop them in the comments below.

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