Approximately two weeks ago, Chief James Chadwick met with funeral home directors concerning safety issues with police escorts during funeral processions. Also, at or around the same time the Chief had a Sergeant in the Patrol Division to contact several other law enforcement agencies in the surrounding area to see how they handle funeral processions.
The Chief was concerned for the safety of motorists during a funeral procession and met with the directors to voice these concerns and discuss ways to make the escort safer. Currently, the procedure that is followed involves a single police officer arriving at the funeral home shortly before the escort is needed. Once the procession is underway, the officer, using emergency lights, leads the vehicles through the city to the grave site.
The problem is that with a long escort, friends or relatives of the deceased toward the end of the procession will pass through a red traffic signal with no police vehicle present to notify other drivers of the escort. This could possibly cause a traffic crash since other motorist may not be looking for a others proceeding through the intersection on a red light.
Georgia Code 40-6-76 governs Funeral Processions. While given the "right of way" at intersections, participants of the procession are not allowed to proceed through a red traffic signal under the law unless an officer is present controlling the intersection.
For the procession to be done safely and legally, it will require an officer be present at each intersection the procession will pass through. It is estimated that it will take 5 officers to conduct a procession which will last approximately 30 minutes from the funeral home to the grave site. If this is done, it would put a strain on the remaining officers to respond to the calls for service during that time frame. Also, the police department can’t predict or control events that may occur. It is possible that an emergency call can happen during a procession requiring all officers to respond. This must be taken into consideration.
Further discussion will continue to try and identify a solution that is both safe and legal, and still provide for a proper police response to other members of the community.