The closure of South Whidbey’s only funeral home in July has presented an intriguing dilemma for the Langley Police Department.
In the event of a death, an officer may be required to stay with a body for up to several hours while arrangements are made to remove it. The process typically involves notifying family members and contacting funeral homes, but it can become bogged down if the deceased lives by themselves or if family members cannot be reached. Furthermore, the nearest funeral homes are now in Oak Harbor and Everett, meaning there could be a delay between when a funeral home is contacted and when it can reach the corpse.
“We just have to wait,” Police Chief David Marks said. “It’s our job to watch over the body, obviously, because they can’t protect themselves.”
“Sometimes just getting a hold of family can be really challenging,” he added.
Marks expressed his concerns about the scenario at the Langley City Council’s Sept. 18 meeting. In a follow-up interview on Wednesday, Marks said that staying with the body, while necessary, would tie up the department’s resources and leave it shorthanded elsewhere. There are only three officers and Marks on staff, meaning one officer would have the responsibility of overseeing safe passage of the remains.
If the death isn’t suspicious or unexpected, the Island County Coroner’s Office does not take jurisdiction of the body. Island County Coroner Robert Bishop also said his office also doesn’t typically assume jurisdiction if the deceased is above the age of 66.
While the Island County Sheriff’s Office provides assistance when the department’s hands are tied, Marks said the overall response time for other calls may not be as efficient.
“It slows down the response time for everything else,” Marks said.
There have been no deaths that have required police to stay with a body since Visser closed, Marks said. He added that the funeral home was very efficient at retrieving cadavers while it was open, but now that its closed, solutions may be hard to come by.
“I don’t see it changing anytime soon,” Marks said. “And, with our older population, I think we’re going to really feel it.”
Capt. Mark Bailey of the Oak Harbor Police Department said deaths do not pose a problem for his staff, as the island’s only two funeral homes — Wallin Funeral Home &Cremation and Whidbey Memorial — are nearby.
Paul Kuzina, owner of Whidbey Memorial in Oak Harbor, said his funeral home can retrieve remains, regardless of whether it is pre-arranged or not, though it’s easier if arrangements are made prior to death to relieve stress on family members. He also added that he’s cognizant of when police are waiting with a body to speed up the process.
“We really try to expedite when they’re waiting because their time is valuable,” Kuzina said. “I can go anywhere on the island within an hour. Even in the middle of the night, it doesn’t take long for me to be on the road.”