ON THE BEAT: Yarraman officer Sergeant Sean Relf said the hardest part of the job was delivering the bad news to parents after crashes.
ON THE BEAT: Yarraman officer Sergeant Sean Relf said the hardest part of the job was delivering the bad news to parents after crashes. Tessa Mapstone

Cop tells all on job's horrifying reality

ONE of the hardest jobs for police officers is being the bearer of bad news.

Yarraman officer in charge and forensic crash investigation officer Sean Relf shares his thoughts on the aftermath of accidents this Road Safety Week:

ONE of the hardest thing a police officer does is to deliver the news that a loved one is gone.

It's hard ordinarily, even when a person's death is expected, but when a fatal traffic crash occurs it is sudden news and not expected.

Routines and ordinary life are shattered in an instant and instead of going about these things, families are thrust into funeral arrangements and quite often caring for seriously injured family members, requiring travel to distant, specialist hospitals.

The pain and hurt of road trauma goes on long after the loved one is laid to rest. The consequences are life long, brought about by quite often brief moments and decisions.

Take a moment and think about how you would approach this situation?

How would you feel about someone telling your own family and friends that you are gone or how would you feel about your actions leading directly to someone else being delivered this news?

Road Safety Week is a time to talk to others about how your actions and attitudes impact road safety.

It's a time to think about your approach because you as a driver, a parent, a victim and a family member are all a vital part of how we approach road safety.


At the crash scene:

Police are often asked about the graphic nature of scenes and dealing with the horrible aftermath of incidents. However, there is one interaction police have with ordinary people that doesn't get any easier.

It's 8pm and the call comes in. A serious single vehicle crash on a country road in the neighbouring town and we need a forensic crash investigator.

One person has been declared deceased at the scene and another is fighting for life and "not looking good", as is the term often used and one that resonates with all emergency service workers for someone in a very bad way and most likely not going to survive.


The reflectorised vests of the SES worker beam light from the middle of the road, beckoning to motorists to turn left here where ordinarily the highway proceeds straight ahead.

One fire truck appliance blocks another, positioned just behind it. Two ambulance vehicles are also parked nearby.

The bright glow of portable lights illuminates a blue tarpaulin and a tree.


Firefighter officers move around each other with exacting coordination and QAS officers lean into the vehicle working tirelessly from kit bags, comforting those inside the twisted steel and plastic wreck, regardless of their state of consciousness.


It has been confirmed. Both occupants are deceased. A collective heaviness falls over the emergency workers.

Why, how, when, who? All questions that still need to be answered.

A quick regroup and a plan of attack to now free the victims, showing them the dignity and courtesy you would anyone regardless of being alive or not.

"We've found a phone and a couple of wallets over here in the bush", cries a fire officer pointing to the ground about five metres from the mangled wreckage.

The first response police open the wallets, fresh faced images of recently licensed drivers looking back at them.

Delivering the message:

A patrol car moves slowly through a residential neighbourhood. "It's quiet tonight", mentions one officer to her partner.


The police radio crackles to life and both officers read the message that has just come through from a police division some three hundred kilometres away.


In just a few words, the premature finality and frailty of human life is made clear.

Both officers look at each other before turning the police car around, heading towards an address they have never been, to talk to people they don't know, to tell them about something that no one should hear.

The jovial conversation only moments earlier gives way to gazes out into the distance and silence before the car gently stops outside the unlit house.

The door-bell rings. The parents wake. "Who could that be? It's 11pm."

Quickly gathering a robe the father moves out of the room, his wife not far behind asking, "Who could it be?"

Both move slowly to the front door. "Who is it?", both parents call out. "It's just the police", comes the call from the other side in a soft, subdued voice.

Both parents open the door and gaze outwards, cold air rushes past their faces. "What's wrong, is everything OK? Oh my god, our son...it's not him is it," exclaims both parents.

I have never worked out what it is, but in my own experience the person always knows that it's bad news.

Is it something on our faces or our mannerisms?

Talking with a colleague recently reveals a common story amongst most of my police colleagues in these situations as they claim, "You never forget those interactions".

Another aspect is a common respect amongst those family members where even in the most difficult and tragic time for them, they tell us "I don't know how you do your job, it must be terrible?"

We are always dumbfounded by this that at the worst possible time for these people whose lives have been completely changed in an instant, that they are still concerned about the emergency service workers, but it's not about us now.