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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Mayor Witt Directs City Manager to Develop a Policy for Police Escorts at Funerals

LAKE CITY, FL – With low non living wage dead end jobs populating Lake City's US 90 corridor like a field of wild mushrooms, local law enforcement has felt the pressure with more traffic and congestion. Last night in City Hall Mayor Witt, recognizing the fact that the City had stopped providing funeral procession escorts "years ago," directed the City Manager to come up with a policy for the City and the Police Department.

During the public comment segment of the City Council meeting your reporter shared with the City Council that he had recently received a call from Atlanta that the police department used to give escorts to families of deceased who were either going to a church or going to the cemetery and that has stopped.

Mayor Witt said, "It's probably been 10 years since the City done that."

Your reporter followed up, "I found it disconcerting when I spoke to one of the funeral directors. It's really a safety issue. There should be a police officer by the intersection, so that when a funeral procession is going through an intersection, all the cars can stay together."

 "I think it would be respectful. I think it is a safety issue. I think the City needs to look into that."

Councilman Jefferson asked, "Do you know whether or not the funeral home made a request for services?"

Your reporter answered, "They don't. From what I understand, the City just stopped doing it."

Mayor Witt added, "Right."

Councilman Jefferson followed, "For the past three weeks I've attended funerals in Lake City, but in each one of them the Sheriff Department was there. I don't know the reasons for that... I know they were there, because I was there"

Your reporter opined, "Maybe that's why they were there."

Chief Gilmore

Chief Gilmore came to the microphone.

She told the City Council, "We have compassion and care about all of our citizens. We try to offer services where we can."

Chief Gilmore reminded Councilman Hill that when his mother passed the Police Department "asked if there was anything we could do to assist you."

Councilman Hill inquired, "The question is, 'Why is it just me?' What about the other citizens?"

Chief Gilmore explained, "When we're asked to do it, most of the time it is up to the family and the funeral home to make sure whatever they want to do.... If any family in this City and they're asking for our assistance in any way, we will do our best to be there for that family... If you're asking for our assistance - that's a phone call and we'll see what we can do to assist, because we care that much about the citizens of Lake City."

Councilwoman Melinda Moses summarized, "So what you're saying is, 'No one's called and asked us to do it and we said, no, we don't do that?'"

Chief Gilmore responded, "That's correct."

Mayor Witt addressed the Chief, "You know, I think it actually stopped before you were the Chief and I think some of the funeral homes just stopped asking for it."

Liability Concerns

Chief Gilmore explained there are liability concerns and told the Council that many cities do not do funerals anymore. She then asked if there were any questions.

Looking for Clarification

Your reporter asked, "If the funeral hall calls, it's the LCPD policy to help guide funeral processions through intersections?"

Chief Gilmore answered, "It is our policy to access the situation and make a determination of what we're going to do."

The Observer followed up, "Either you do it or you don't. If it's 5 cars it may not be an issue. If it's ten cars, it may be an issue. The point is, is the service available, or is it assessed based on who calls and what their needs are?"

Chief Gilmore responded, "I don't remember a time when we've denied services."

Councilman Hill: A different story

Councilman Hill:  "When my mother passed, the funeral director told me that the police department no longer does escorts. You did offer your services, but I don't want special services because of this position. There are other people in the City, besides myself that need that assistance."

Chief Gilmore responded, "That's a decision this Council makes... This Council can make the decision, 'Chief, for everyone who is calling for this police department to escort every family that is asking for, I'm going to do your bidding.' So that is a decision of this Council to do that and all you have to do is say, 'It does not matter'... If this Council says that tonight and it does not matter, your police department will do that, but I can tell you that every time we've been called, we step up to the  plate."

Councilwoman Moses:  "It sounds like we're doing it."

City Manager Helfenberger: "We need to communicate with the funeral homes."

Mayor Witt added, "And the police department and you all come up with a policy."

Councilman Jefferson pointed out that it would be appropriate for the City to work with the County when funerals begin in the City and end in the County and added, "We don't know if somebody needs our services unless they call and ask."

Chief Gilmore: "If this is the service that you want for the police department to do every time a family calls, then I offer that we look at the policy; we look at the insurance and all of those things that it involves. It will take more than one officer to do that. If that is the will of this Council, then we will do your bidding."

"Everybody needs to be treated equally"

Councilman Hill told the Council, "The will of the Council is we want everybody to be treated equally, not because of their position or their family."

Mayor Witt said, "I agree with Jake [Hill]. We need a policy. I think we need to get a policy adopted."

The conversation concluded with the Chief, "We've been there when the funeral director called me directly asking for us to assist at an intersection."

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