Mourning commute: Council asks if police fee takes fun from funerals

news-funeralprocession-hUntil recently, Charlottesville Police (not shown here) conducted four to five daily escorts.

The Charlottesville Police Department sent an emissary to City Council Monday to explain something that's been festering since May, when the CPD decided to stop routinely providing free funeral processions and begin charging $150 when officers are asked to corral mourning traffic.

"It was time-consuming," Lt. Ronnie Roberts told the Council. "Resources were being pretty much depleted to meet this objective."

This objective is the time-honored practice of getting a body-filled hearse from church to graveyard. But in recent years, such trends as secular services, graveside funerals, cremations with exotic ash scatterings, and even motorist ennui have crashed these end-of-life parties.

"Society changed," Roberts said. "Most people don't pull over."

Councilor Kristin Szakos told the Council audience that she was the person who asked for the explanation from the Police Department after getting some feedback from constituents while walking her dog.

"I think it's really too bad," Szakos said. "It does seem to be a generational thing."

Mayor-Councilor Dave Norris seconded that emotion.

"I share Ms. Szakos' sadness because we don't honor the dead as we used to," said Norris. "It's part of the culture, and we're losing that."

One interesting sidelight to the October 4 discussion was a revelation about the productivity of parking ticket-writing. The officers pulled for an hour or two from their tire-chalking and ticket-writing duties when a funeral calls give up writing "approximately fifteen parking tickets per hour." In all, according to a report by the police chief, funeral escorts were costing the city $100,000 to $150,000 in lost parking fines.

From now on, according to the policy, procession requests that come from funeral homes with 24-hour notice would still be conducted for $150.

Before the policy change, Roberts said, the CPD would typically provide four to five escorts per day, but in the last two weeks, only one funeral opted to pay for the service. The Department began advising funeral homes of the policy change in May.

Lt. Roberts also shared with Council a tale of a colleague in another jurisdiction who was seriously injured when a car invaded a funeral procession. And Roberts noted that Charlottesville would join other localities who avoid legal liability for mishaps by limiting its offers of free processions.

"I defer to your professional judgment," Mayor Norris told Roberts who concluded of free funeral processions: "I think it's a policy that has outlived its time."


Dan, it seems to me that if people in a funeral procession were creating a public hazard, they ought to be ticketed, not escorted.

It's not for "nothing". The hazard is on public roads and police are responsible for enforcing public safety on those roads. What pays for those roads and police officers? Taxes. When the government collects taxes they are supposed to use them for basic services like roads and protection. So what are we paying for?

All of the complainers must believe that they are "entitled" to something for nothing. What spoiled brats America has created in the last 2 generations. Amazing.

Sam, we don't need more employees in the city and county. We need for those that are currently employed to do what they are suppose to be doing (as in routine patrol). I had to take my daughter from one side of town to the other to catch a tour bus Wednesday morning, left home about 4:00 a.m.

The only police cars I saw (3) were all sitting in a 24 hour store chatting and drinking coffee. Forty minutes later the same three cars were all still sitting at this same store.

When I worked at the Greene County Sheriff's Office, the then Sheriff Morris went out all hours of the day and NIGHT supervising his troops. He didn't allow his troops to all congregate at a store in public view for 45 to 60+ minutes. He made them get out and perform their duties on midnight shift, namely PATROL the county and deter crime.

J.N. Bailey lived at Monticello while he was living now people live at his tombstone in Maplewood. I boxwoods hide a sleeping place. It would give someone an easy job, instead of a handout, if they would hire a night watchman at both cemeteries.

A free clue for this person they call Norris... the city needs to put a tall fence around Maplewood and Oakwood. And lock them both at dark. Tombstones are being vandalized and/or totally destroyed in both cemteries at an alarming rate!!!!

Sam, I think if we were all to put our heads together and try to come up with a list of things the city does manage well that it would be a pretty short list in the end.

Unlike in the world of private employment, mismanaging city owned assets doesn't get you replaced. Look at how badly the Downtown Mall was neglected for years and how poorly the extension projects on 3rd and 1st streets were managed.

The Mall is much more visible than a city owned cemetery and countless people watched and were negatively affected by what happened there right in the middle of things. Do you think Jim Tolbert or anyone else fears in any way for the loss of his job though?

The response to the snow removal problem this past year by the Department of Public Works was equally visible and equally badly managed with again no consequences being suffered by those in charge. That lack of accountability at the top is not lost on the guys lower on the totem pole.

If the city were to hire a tough city manager things might change, but they will most likely give a rubber stamp to the current acting city manager citing a need for "diversity" or some such and the good old boy network of mutual back-scratchers will stay put.

We can all expect the price we pay in taxes and new fees to keep going up and the quality of the service we get for it to keep going down until we fix the real problem here, which is a city council composed of members who at best seem barely qualified to hold public office. Szakos herself is a prime example of that.

In 1963 the old burial record book for Maplewood & Oakwood were sent to UVa for microfilming. Good thing since the City has lost/destroyed the Maplewood burial book since then and the only copy is the one made in 1963. It looks like the indigent burial book for Oakwood copied in 1963 has also been lost or destroyed since then. J.N. Bailey's grave in Maplewood was so covered up with boxwood I got them to cut it back. Now the stone is being weed wacked so it probably would have been better off hidden in the box wood. etc etc. So the City's record is not great with me concerning the deceased.

"we don’t honor the dead as we used to,” said Norris. I don't think the City treats/spends as much time/money on Maplewood Cemetery and Oakwood Cemetery as the the City did in the past either. So I'd be carefull of the City getting on a high horse.

Dan, have you ever sat down and figured out --EVERY-- tax you pay in a month's time? Do it one day, you would be quite surprised at the bottom line. And I'm talking about adding in even the taxes on all your utility bills each month. Gas, water, electric, home phone, cell phones, etc... for example. And when I say gas, I also mean gas coming into your home and the per gallon you pay on road fuel. All of this on top of the taxes you mentioned and income taxes.

At the end of the month you should consider yourself lucky if you have 45% to 50% of your net income left for your mortgage, food, automobile and clothing.

The Charlottesville Utility Tax on the electricity coming into my home was $15.00 this month. Dominion Power collects it from every customer and pays it into the city.

They should contract this duty out to private security 'officers'.

So let me get this straight. We pay real estate taxes, personal property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes. There are more people than ever which translates to more taxpayers than ever.

And now it's gotten to the point that you have to pay for trash pickup, ambulance transport, fire protection (see news article about event in TN), and now funeral escorts?

It seems that only Charlottesville has slipped through the wrinkle in decency, and citizens know not what the proper respect means. Drive just 70 miles south, and attend a funeral in Lynchburg. One officer is all that is required. On two lane roads, people will pull over and wait. If you have your headlights on, no one tries to butt into line. So, it seems to be a geographical issue.

It seems to be true that they are charging for alarm activation as well. I guess we need to revert back to the old tried and true. Save your money and your life, buy a Smith and Wesson, and protect yourself. I think that the constitution still allows for that, at least for the moment.

They went from a low estimate of 56 processions to 1 in the first two weeks. While some people cannot afford $150, I highly doubt that was the reason the majority decided against it. To me that seems to point to the fact that people don't really value the service much, but will certainly take it if it is free. If you do the math, this is saving them ~44 hours a week. The way i see it, the citizens are no longer paying for a dedicated person to do processions for private religious services.

What about those Albemarle cops who direct traffic every Sunday (and sometimes other days) in front of the Covenant Church on Rio Road? I sure hope the church is being charged a fee for taking up those resources (and I hope the cops are getting overtime).

The cop shoppes charge for alarm activations now too. I wonder how much this has generated in revenue for the city and county?

Let's see.... they encourage people to file incident reports online, alarm activation fees, funeral escort fees, charges for traffic control at John Paul Jones arena, charge business owners for protection by off duty cops, etc... What services do they perform on the tax dollar that we and business owners are already paying?

I think it is rediculous! I think there will be more accidents with the new policy in place because due to traffic delays (stop lights, other drivers cutting in the middle of funeral processions because they know there is no police escort anymore, etc.) there are people who don't get to the funeral by time the graveside service starts. OR, they rush and drive recklessly to try to get to the grave site on time. As for the $150 fee, believe it or not there are many families who simply can't afford it. Frankly, I don't care if drivers pull over or not, but I do care that they recklessly cut in line.

the next time an active or former police officer dies, i guarantee there will be a police escort for that procession...and i also guarantee the family will not have to pay $150 for it.

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If we can give crack whores welfare then we can certainly give a policemans time for a funeral escort.

The fee should be waived for the poor if they are citizens of the city or any residnent who has lived here either their entire life or more than 50 years or is a veteran. The law should also state that Funeral homes cannot charge a seperate handling fee for collecting or setting it up.

Calling a funeral a "private religous service" is a stretch. Even atheists have funerals.

If people in the funeral procession are obeying traffic laws, then there is really no reason that traffic lights, or people cutting in line should be a problem at all. Obviously the police don't think so or they wouldn't have asked for that change in policy.

I have made it from the corner of First and Markets streets, the site of one funeral home, to the cemetery by the river in 5 to 10 minutes quite easily any number of times. No police escort needed. I have even encountered lights, stop signs, and other motorists along the way without incident.

Good to know Kristin Szakos can take a tough stance on a really pressing issue like this though.

"In all, according to a report by the police chief, funeral escorts were costing the city $100,000 to $150,000 in lost parking fines."

Will the free service resume after the traffic light camera(s) are installed? The camera(s) will generate *much* more revenue per hour than parking tickets...

And we all know the purpose of the PD is revenue generation. Recent events prove it is certainly not crime prevention.

I just noticed something quite interesting at lunch.

I saw the Charlottesville Police Department giving a police motorcycle escort to the UVa Men’s Football Team (presumably on the way to the airport for their upcoming game with Georgia Tech). Please note that is was the Charlottesville Police Department and not the UVa Police Department.

Hmmm . . . my first thought was ââ?¬Å?Why does the UVa Men’s Football Team need a Charlottesville Police escort to get to the airport?” Plenty of folks go to the airport everyday without a police escort. Why is the UVa Men’s Football Team any different?

However, for the purpose of this posting, I think the more appropriate question is: ââ?¬Å?Does UVa pay the Charlottesville Police Department for this escort?”

If so, how much? And, does that amount equate effectively to the applicable ââ?¬Å?lost parking fines” connected to the timeframe of these escorts?

If not, then why not (especially in light of the funeral procession discussion)?

I think it is a worthwhile question to be addressed given the overall nature of the City’s thought process in this case.

Also, a couple additional thoughts I have not seen mentioned previously.

What about the tax revenue generated by the funeral itself? Correct me if wrong, but don’t funeral homes pay sales taxes? Don’t funeral homes pay fees associated with business licenses? How about City tax revenue associated with wakes and other gatherings connected to the funeral?

Also, what’s going to happen if, God forbid, a Charlottesville police officer is killed in the line of duty (or dies of natural causes for that matter)? Is the City actually going to charge the police officer’s family for the funeral escort? What about the costs associated with other officers attending the funeral?

Are we really taking into account the bigger picture here or is the City simply being a bit ââ?¬Å?petty” with regards to a long standing tradition of respect to its citizenry?

I respectfully think that City government and the Charlottesville Police Department should really give this concept some additional thought. I don’t think the best decision has been made.

Just my two cents.

I have been there and done that when it comes to funeral escorts. I think that the Police Department made a wise choice in charging for the service. What people don't understand about police departments are all the little things, like funaral escorts for example, that take up time for the police during the day. Put aside the city's excuse about loss of parking fine income. With the current economy, its an issue of a praticality. The Police Department is taking hits from the economy just as most others are. They have a limited number of officers (limited by city human resources) who respond to numerous calls for service each day during the same hours funerals are held. The main responsibility of the police is to protect and serve, and that means aswering calls for service from the citizens within jurisdiction. That takes priority over a funeral escort. I think that the city and its citizens have much bigger issues to deal with and discuss than the city police adding a charge for a funeral escort. Very agrivating. I want my tax dollars to go to better things.

As far as UVA football and the escort given to them by Charlottesville Police, the University pays them seperately for that luxury. Once again, complain, complain, complain. Leave the PO-PO alone, gosh.

Covenant Church on Rio Road does not need to pay for the police to do their job of preventing accidents in a high traffic area.

Interesting thought! But, using your argument, taxpayers (and Hill & Wood Funeral Home, Teague Funeral Home, J F Bell Funeral Home, and McClenney Funeral Home) should not have to pay for the police to do their job in preventing accidents in high traffic intersections within the city.

The taxpayers and funeral homes probably all pay more taxes then the Covenant Church! Come to think of it, aren't churches tax exempt?

Can't we get the Pagans to do the funral escort like they do in WV, PA and Kenntucky? They ride better and have more class.

I think the city should tell the family of a lifetime resident it is not entitled to anything after the family member served in a World Wa, paid property taxes for 60 years, volunteered and was an all around good guy. They should save that 150 bucks to give money to a crack head who dropped out of the free school system but still gets food stamps to compensate for the free lunch they gave up when they dropped out.

It is a dumb PR move. They could easily have cadets or even Crosswalk people do it in between their morning and afternoon shifts.

Some things should be included in your property taxes and this is one of them.

I think local funeral escort ought to be an elected (but unpaid) position. I nominate Bill Marshall.

If I were retired I would be honored to show respect for my fellow mans by doing just that.

Perhaps the city could look to retired officers to do it for a small stipend and pay for it by keeping the meter maids shafting the taxpayers for actually having the nerve to park on the street they paid for without paying again.

Right on Bill! We the People shouldn't have to pay to park any more than we should have to pay for gas. We've already paid for the car and it's outrageous that we have to pay again and again just to move it. You park you pay! You move you pay! It ain't right! It just ain't right!