The Valley City Police Department has discontinued the general practice of escorting funerals. Police Chief Fred Thompson told the Valley City city commission during its regular meeting Oct. 15 that the city could be liable for any collision caused during an escort.
Thompson said the problem is that when officers are escorting a funeral from town, there might be 15-20 cars with an officer leading and maybe one in back, but the vehicles in between the officers get stretched out.
“You’re crossing through these intersections that may not be controlled or are controlled by traffic lights and what not. If somebody comes along the other way that would normally have the right-of-way, and they do not recognize that there’s a funeral procession going on in front of them, you could have a traffic collision,” Thompson said.
“Because the police are escorting the funeral, the city stands to be liable for the collision,” he continued.
Thompson told the commission that he has checked with police chiefs from other cities throughout the state to see if they still do escorts. Bismarck and Fargo have discontinued the practice, and Jamestown is considering discontinuing the practice too.
Devils Lake still does funeral escorts, because the avenue that they take was specifically designed so that it has stop signs at all the intersections.
“Not a bad idea, but that’s not going to work here in Valley City,” Thompson said.
Williston still does escorts because they have enough officers to be able to control all the intersections.
Thompson also said that even during past practice, the VCPD was not providing 100 percent coverage anyway.
“If an officer is in the middle of escorting a funeral and a priority call comes in, they have to leave,” Thompson explained.
Al Schuldt, owner of Lerud Schuldt Funeral Home, said that he’d like to see the VCPD continue funeral escorts.
“If they don’t want to lead the funeral procession, that’s fine, but I still think they could block some intersections for us,” said Schuldt.
Schuldt said one way Lerud Schuldt Funeral Home plans to make funeral escorts easier without the help of police officers is with the use of flashing lights on the grill of their funeral coach or a purple light bar, which indicates a funeral procession.
Before taking that route, though, Lerud Schuldt Funeral Home plans to bring their case to the city commission to encourage the VCPD to continue funeral escorts.
Schuldt said that having a funeral procession without police officers is “doable, but you sure feel a whole lot better with a car there flashing blue and red lights to get the attention” of other drivers.
“We’re a small enough town that I think we can accommodate,” Schludt added.
Jeff Nathan, owner of Oliver Nathan Funeral Home, said he and his partner also plan to talk with city commissioners, encouraging the VCPD to continue funeral escorts.
Nathan said what they’re doing now is leading the procession with the funeral coach and having the funeral director work with the family to get them out to the cemetery in a reasonable time.
Thompson said that the VCPD still has the ability to escort a funeral based on the circumstance surrounding the funeral, but as a general course, they will not be doing it anymore.