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