Local 911 service will no longer coordinate funeral processions

Published 11:45 am Friday, October 4, 2013

In addition to the adoption of a new state-wide fee scale that should produce additional revenue, Chilton County’s 911 service could be undergoing other changes.

Wording in the funding act states that 911 surcharge funding can’t be used for services deemed to be non-emergencies, and Wright said the local 911 service, like those across the state, have traditionally performed tasks that would not be considered emergencies.

Because of a funding shortfall and increase in the number of calls, Wright said he had already been researching ways to cut back on the department’s non-emergency workload, or recoup the cost for some of those services, even before the act went into effect.

One avenue was to not coordinate processions for funerals handled by local funeral homes.

Based on Wright’s recommendation, the Chilton County 911 board passed a resolution that as of Oct. 1, the local 911 service would no longer coordinate funeral processions.

“That takes a 911 dispatcher that might be needed to handle an emergency call away for 3-5 minutes getting information about a funeral procession,” Wright said. “It’s a long, drawn-out process that we didn’t need to be involved in.”

Wright said Chilton County E-911 coordinated about 1,300 funerals per year.

Now, funeral homes would coordinate funeral processions by contacting local law enforcement agencies directly.

Bobby Martin with Martin Funeral Home said he’s hopeful the new process will work smoothly.

“We’re just going to have to wait and see,” said Martin, who is also Chilton County’s Probate Judge.

Typically, the agency with jurisdiction over the location of a person’s burial would provide an escort for a funeral procession from wherever the services were held to the place of burial, and perhaps also station officers at intersections to ensure ease of passage.

Aaron Ellison with Ellison-Cleckler Funeral Home was less optimistic than Martin about how the new arrangement would work.

Instead of one telephone call to 911, Ellison said funeral homes will have to contact as many as four different law enforcement agencies to arrange a single funeral escort.

“I can see where it’s going to be a problem, especially on the weekend when the police departments aren’t fully staffed,” Ellison said.

Ellison said he didn’t think the new funeral escort policy was an intended effect of the funding act.

“I don’t think anybody would have intentionally passed something knowing that it was going to cut out funeral escorts,” he said. “If we’re going to cut it out, let’s cut out everything else. There are a lot of things they handle that aren’t emergencies.

“It is a shame that a resident of Chilton County, who has lived here all their life and paid taxes, and when they die, we can’t afford them 30 minutes to escort them to their grave. I see that as a problem.”

Ellison said his biggest complaint is that no one associated with Chilton County E-911 reached out to his funeral home and others to try to find a different solution.

Clanton Police Chief Brian Stilwell said his agency’s policy about funeral processions won’t change.

“It is becoming difficult with more funerals,” Stilwell said. “For us, it takes four or five people to handle a funeral. Right now, we’re able to handle it fine. We still consider it a service, and we’re still going to continue doing it when we can.”

But smaller agencies might have only one officer on duty at any given time, making it more of a strain to commit that officer to a funeral procession for a few hours.

Stilwell said in some places it has become common practice for funeral homes of families of the deceased to hire off-duty police officers.

“I anticipate that’s what’s going to have to come in the future at some point,” he said.