In-Depth

During The COVID-19 Pandemic, A Police Funeral Presents A New Challenge

HPD officer Jason Knox, who died in a helicopter crash last weekend, will be buried on Saturday.

Officer Jason Knox died early Saturday morning on May 2 when his HPD helicopter crashed.

Houston police tactical flight officer Jason Knox died when the helicopter he was on crashed in Greenspoint on early Saturday morning, while searching for possible drowning victims in a bayou.

Since then condolences and accolades for the 35-year-old son of Houston City Council member Mike Knox have poured in from police Chief Art Acevedo, Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Houston Police Officers' Union and many others.

Knox leaves behind a wife and two children.

His memorial service is this Saturday, but like so many others, will be forced to adapt to a pandemic.

Usually, they are massive events, with sometimes thousands of people attending, including officers from neighboring law enforcement agencies and first responders from around the state and country.

"I think there is just this ultimate sacrifice associated with someone who dies, gives up their life in the line of duty, I mean, giving one's life while protecting and serving, and I think that members of that community feel a tremendous loss," said Beth Gilmore, who has attended more than 100 such police funerals.

Funeral services for Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez are being held this morning at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
Funeral services for Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez were held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Sept. 13, 2017.

Gimore has worked at different law enforcement agencies across the country and is now a criminal justice professor at the University of Houston-Downtown.

For first responders, she said, it's a matter of respect.

"That sense of loss reverberates through other agencies as well," Gilmore said.

So it's usually a packed event with lots of physical contact. Not something you'd want to see during the current coronavirus pandemic, which is why most funerals have looked very different in the past two months or so. Many people haven't been able to have the kind of memorial service their deceased loved one may have wanted.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said it is a challenge to have a police funeral right now.

"Everyone is working very carefully to make sure that we have a celebration that's respectful of officer Jason Knox," he said, "but at the same time to keep everybody safe."

That means instead of a big public service, the memorial service will be open only for family, friends and officers who knew Knox.

But members of the public will still be able to participate. They're welcome to attend the visitation Friday evening at First Baptist Church, where there will be social distancing. And they can view Saturday's funeral on HPD's social media and local TV.

Gilmore said strict social distancing might not always be possible if you want to follow the traditions.

"My assumption will be, because it's heavily rooted in tradition, that a flag will be draped over the fallen officer's casket," she said. "And at some point during the service, the honor guard will fold that flag. Well, at some point they are going to come close together."

Expect to see other traditions to be followed. There already was a procession that took Knox's body from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences to the funeral home. People lined the streets to pay their respects.

Funeral services for Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez are being held this morning at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on September 13, 2017 in Houston.
Funeral services for Houston Police Sergeant Steve Perez were held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Sept. 13, 2017 in Houston.

After the service, there will be a 21-gun salute, a helicopter fly-over and a riderless horse. Bagpipers will play Amazing Grace.

A dispatcher will make a final radio call to officer Knox.

"The dispatcher will call that the officer is a 10-42, which is an end of watch, or a 10-7, depending on the agency," Gilmore said. "And in some agencies they thank them for their service."

That call is also radioed to all officers of the police agency.

HPD officers will be wearing black bands over their badges for 30 days from the day of death.

"Neighboring agencies will wear the same band on their badges," Gilmore said, "from the time of death of the officer until the time that the officer is buried."

The visitation is Friday from 5-8 p.m. and the memorial service is Saturday at 11 a.m. Both events are at Houston's First Baptist Church at 7401 Katy Freeway.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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