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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.

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