Being a family liaison officer is often thought of as holding someone’s hand and making cups of tea but as one of the force’s specialist officers explains – it’s far from it.
In times of crisis, a family liaison officer role is crucial within investigations, in supporting bereaved families and contributing to the investigation of incidents where people have died.
Jo Baxter has been in this specialist role for 17 years and dealt with many harrowing, sensitive, tense and emotional cases while working for the force.
Thanks to TV shows and dramas, the role of a family liaison officer can often be seen as only being there to comfort the family – but as Jo recalls, her job is a lot different to many people’s perception.
“Being a family liaison officer couldn’t be further from the stereotypical role, the pink and fluffy role of going to a family and giving them a cuddle, having a drink of tea with them and walking away,” she said.
“As an investigator and that single point of contact with that family at any time they could disclose anything that’s vital in that investigation and you’ve got to be dynamic to whatever is presented to you.
“You’ve got to be on the ball all the time.
“It’s really satisfying to be able to help navigate a family through difficult investigations and help a family have some clarity at a point when their lives are turned upside down.
“It’s about building that trust and confidence with them to get every bit of evidence and every bit of information we need to ensure a thorough investigation is done.
“As that single point of contact it’s really rewarding to be able to do that and to see a family from the beginning of that journey to the end where you can’t turn back time but they can feel satisfied.
“Seeing them understand what happened on that particular day and to be able to continue to live their lives, albeit on a day-to-day basis, but continue to move forward and have some closure of that investigation with the trust and confidence that Nottinghamshire Police has done everything it can.”
A family liaison officer is a trained investigator who volunteers for the role in addition to their other daily duties.
They are called into action and assigned to families when somebody has died – either as a result of a road traffic collision, a crime or a worldwide mass disaster.
It’s their role to build trust and confidence with the bereaved family and to have contact with them until the case has concluded – either in a coroner’s inquest or criminal proceedings.
They are the bridge between the family who have lost a loved one and the team of officers investigating the circumstances of what happened.
Jo, who has nearly two decades of experience supporting bereaved families, explains how cases often stick with the officer and learning from each incident is a vital tool in helping her deal with future cases.
She said: “I dealt with a case in 2016 and it stood out to me at the time and I haven’t necessarily faced anything quite the same since.
“It was a fatal collision, a head-on collision, whereby a woman driver named Amy was driving on her way home after seeing her boyfriend for the evening.
“She was driving along a single carriageway and another driver overtook a lorry and had a head-on collision with Amy – fatally injuring her.
“It was a really hard case because Amy was so well regarded and quite early on I went to see the family and I needed to build their trust and confidence so we could understand more about her.
“She had a huge heart, and everyone knew her for that.
“I remember a specific conversation where Amy’s dad said to me he wanted to pick Amy up from the mortuary and bring her home.
“When I spoke to him further about it, he felt that he had brought Amy home when she was a baby as that doting dad and she was the baby of the family.
“He felt a huge sense of duty that he should be the person to bring Amy home to her resting place.
“And actually, when I think about that and the bravery, the emotional aspect of that for him was huge.
“It triggered a number of different responses in terms of whether he could bring Amy home in his own vehicle and in turn whether he could bury her on their land.
“It wasn’t something I had faced before but we are always surprised by something new that comes up and it’s about sitting down and really listening to and understanding that family’s needs, seeing it through their own eyes as victims and what is important to them.
“It’s about families feeling they are understood and feeling that we are doing everything possible to help.
“As a result, Amy’s dad and her mum were able to bury her in their land in an area where she had all of the orphaned animals she looked after and so it’s a huge memorable area for them now.
“It was a really good aspect of listening and understanding and not just trivialising that maybe he hadn’t comprehended that his daughter had died, but that actually he did know and was aware and helping him achieve that just gave him some comfort.”
Jo, who continued to support Amy’s family until the criminal proceedings ended, explained how it is vital to have those good relationships so the family trusts officers and can have a good understanding of what’s happening even when updates may be difficult or disappointing to hear.
She added: “The driver of the vehicle did go to court and received a four-year sentence.
“Again, sometimes it’s hard for families to understand as in their minds they see it no differently to a homicide – yet the sentences are very different in terms of fatal collisions.
“Because you have built up a good trusting relationship and confidence with the family, you can prepare them for that so they don’t feel like their loved one is only worth that four-year sentence.”
Family liaison officers are just one of a wide range of police and staff roles available within Nottinghamshire Police.
Opportunities come up regularly throughout the year and the force is always looking to recruit talented individuals from diverse backgrounds with a keen sense of public service.