5 tips for family preparedness in an off-duty encounter

You may be ready to engage in an off-duty confrontation, but is your family? That’s a question you’ll want to be sure to ask yourself far before you actually have to make the decision whether to get involved (which, in itself, has a lot of factors to consider – a discussion for another time). Although it’s not known whether the off-duty officer involved in the recent shooting at a Philadelphia movie theatre was with family, he could have been, and his experience serves as a catalyst for discussing family preparedness.

Here are five tips for making sure your family is ready to do what’s necessary should you find yourself in an off-duty encounter:

1. Have a code word, phrase or other signal that translates to: “It’s time for you to get out of here…now!”

Crime strikes fast and if you decide it’s prudent to engage, seconds count. There is typically no time for discussion and explanation. In an off duty encounter, one of your main concerns, obviously, will be making sure that your family is out of harms way. Pre-planning can help with that.

Talk to your family and come up with a word, phrase or other signal that is only used in times of emergency. It can be virtually anything, but make sure it’s obtuse enough to get the point across to your family quickly but not obvious enough that you’ll wind up IDing yourself as a police officer sooner than you want to. The key element of this part of the plan is immediate action on the part of your family when the word, action or signal is given. No discussion. No questioning. Just an immediate departure from the area.

2. Make sure your family knows where to go.

If you’re involved in an off duty confrontation, you don’t want your family anywhere near the scene, not just because of the possibility that rounds might fly but also because you want to make sure that there is no temptation for your spouse or kids, who will understandably be extremely anxious, to decide to get involved should they be watching and suddenly find themselves so worried that they feel they need to run to your aid. Ideally, they will move far from the area while either making an immediate 911 call on a cell phone or seeking a means by which an emergency call can be immediately made.

3. Make sure your family knows what to say when the emergency call is made.

It’s absolutely critical to make sure that someone from your family knows to make a call to 911 directly, even if they know others in the area have or are in the process of making similar calls. The purpose of that call is to make very sure that the dispatcher knows to alert responding officers to the fact that there’s an armed off duty officer in plainclothes at the scene. Whoever calls should give an extremely detailed description of where you are, what you’re wearing and what you were doing at the time they left the scene.

4. Remember to make sure that your family – especially your kids – know what NOT to say.

When it comes time to identify your office, timing is critical…especially in an off duty encounter. Your family should know that they are not, under any circumstances, to announce the fact that you’re a cop. That’s your job. A child suddenly blurting out, “Hey Dad! That guy’s got a gun and he’s holding up the cashier! You’re a police officer! Pull out your gun and get him!” could be an extremely costly mistake.

5. Remember it doesn’t just stop at family.

When appropriate, you should let close friends you may commonly hang out with in public settings know about these same rules. Also, referencing back to point 4 above, it’s important that you let people who you know well and who work in places you may commonly shop (like the local convenience store that’s a target for robberies) that if you happen to walk in on a robbery or other disturbance, they refrain from blurting out something like, “Thank God you’re here, Steve! This guy is holding me up! Get him. You, bad guy, are in a heap of trouble now! That guy who just walked in is a cop!!!”

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