As we’ll mention below, avoiding off-duty engagements when possible is always the safest option for you and your family when you’re out together. However, if you must get involved in a serious situation, is your family ready to react appropriately? Here are a few tips to think about:
1. Have an “alert” code word or phrase. This is something you say—preferably out-of-the-ordinary and not something that would necessarily alert or alarm others—that lets your family know something might be of concern or a situation may be building. This can go either way. You might spot something and say it, your spouse might spot something or even your well-trained kids might throw a flag. Something like, “We should visit the Grand Canyon sometime” or “Time for a break.” Once they hear that, they know to pay close attention to surroundings and any specific directions you may give and they’re geared up to implement a pre-determined family safety plan. With that…
2. Have a family safety plan. Be sure you have prepped your family for what they should do if you unavoidably need to engage off-duty. This should include instructions to:
– Get away! Escape to a safe location. Explain what kind of location they should look for (inside a populated lobby or around a corner, not just a few steps up the street.)
– Not follow you or get involved themselves, no matter what. This can be easier said than done, particularly for kids. Remind them that you are trained and cannot be distracted from doing your job because you’re worried about taking care of them.
– Not hesitate or argue with any directions you may give specific to the situation. If you need to put the safety plan into action, it needs to happen now. This is not the time to discuss what to do and what not to do.
3. Know what to say to 911. Make sure your spouse or older children know specifically what to say to an emergency operator. “My [spouse, parent, son/daughter] is a police officer. He’s in a situation at [location] and he’s wearing [very thorough description of clothing, physical features, etc.]. She is dealing with [Who? How many? What are they wearing? What are they doing?]
4. Know to stay away. Let them know that they should not come back to the scene. Rather, they should wait to hear from you. Coming back before the situation is absolutely under control puts them, and potentially you, at risk. And depending on the situation you may be awhile. Get somewhere safe and stay there. Assure them ahead of time–while you’re pre-planning your family safety response–that you will call them when all is clear. (Then make sure you do reach out as soon as feasible to fill them in and give them some relief from the unknown.)
5. Avoid when you can. Whenever possible, try not to get directly involved unless it’s absolutely necessary (e.g., someone is at serious risk), particularly when you’re with your family. Let uniformed officers handle it. Be a good witness but try not to be a player.
6. And when you can’t avoid…remember the cardinal rules of off-duty, plainclothes engagements: Announce yourself to responding officers, remember that if you’re armed, you will be viewed as a serious threat – act accordingly – and, most importantly, comply with uniformed officers’ commands without resistance or hesitation.
Other family safety tips to share? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.