Make your badge visible, if possible, and yell out that you’re an off-duty cop. But be prepared to follow commands from responders that you may be highly uncomfortable with.
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
This column first appeared on PoliceOne.com.
In light of recent threats by gang members to retaliate against peace officers for arrests and shootings, it's wise to keep in mind that offenders who vow revenge should always be taken seriously and that sometimes they do follow through.
What can you do especially off-duty, when you may be most vulnerable to protect yourself and your family from angry criminals determined to retaliate? And how do you keep legitimate concern for your safety from dominating your life?
We conclude our two-part series on what leading trainers and survivors of vengeful assaults recommend.
When you're out and about with your family, whoever picks up on a danger cue first an ominous stare, aggressive movement in your direction, a bulge or a gait that suggests a concealed weapon should know how to immediately alert the rest of you and exactly what their role should be from that point forward.
"Coach" Bob Lindsey, who teaches off-duty survival and has practiced what he preaches during a long career with the Jefferson Parish (La.) Sheriff's Office, outlines the key ingredients of a good family protection plan:
- From cop talk in the home, even your kids are likely to have an aptitude for alertness superior to the average civilian's. If your family members are aware of their surroundings, just as you are, they'll be getting impressions from what they see, what they hear and what they feel, Lindsey explains. "What they feel is most important," he says. "There'll be a sense of impending danger that is complemented almost instantly by something they see or hear." The key to receiving these important messages strongly and promptly is for your whole family to consciously heighten their awareness level anytime you're out in public in the great unknown.
- If you're armed, your family should stay on your non-gun side. You don't want someone impulsively locking down on your gun arm in response to danger if you have to draw.
- Establish and practice both visual and verbal family codes. Whoever senses a threat might make a specified hand gesture (reaching their right hand across the chest and tugging on their left collar tab, for example) and/or say something ("Attack!") that's a prearranged signal. Sound the alert as soon as you sense something wrong. "If you wait for confirmation," Lindsey advises, "the attack will only be quicker and closer."
- If all of you cannot immediately exit from the threat zone, the rest of your family should disengage, leaving you behind to further assess and, if necessary, deal with the situation. "This is imperative," Lindsey stresses. "You don't want your family to become part of an attack. If they do, you may put yourself in greater jeopardy and weaken your response trying to defend them."
- From a place of safety, your family should call 911. First and foremost, they should report that an off-duty officer is at the scene and is armed. They should give a description of you and your clothing that can be relayed to responding personnel. Then they should stay in their safe location.
If you've had to draw your sidearm to control an off-duty situation and your gun's still out, remember that "your greatest threat now is likely to be from responding officers, who will probably initially see you only as an unidentified subject with a gun," says Lt. Wayne Corcoran of the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff's Department.
Make your badge visible, if possible, and yell out that you're an off-duty cop. But be prepared to follow commands from responders that you may be highly uncomfortable with, such as putting your gun down and moving away from it. Be careful especially not to turn abruptly and unintentionally point your gun at an arriving officer.
Remember, too, not to let confidence in your spouse's and children's observations and responses make you complacent on family outings, Lindsey cautions. "Understand that it's not their obligation to protect you. You need to be your own best body guard."
"The elements of an attack are intent weapon delivery system and target, and in managing an attack we need to eliminate as many elements as possible," Lindsey teaches. Yet rather than minimize themselves as a target when off-duty, some officers billboard their police affiliation like a lure to anyone with a grudge against law enforcement.
They're the ones who wear their uniform shirt to and from work rather than change or cover it up with a jacket. Or change everything but their dead-give-away cop boots. Or sling their gun belt over their shoulder as they head in or out of their apartment. Or carry a gym bag with a department logo when they go to work out. Or never pay any attention to who might be following them as they daydream along their same, unvaried daily route.
"You stay alive by staying alert," says Lou Savelli, a former NYPD gang commander and how head of an independent training organization called Homefront Protective Group. "Stay aware of who's approaching you, who's around you, who's following you. If you don't see a threat coming you may not be able to save yourself from it."
"Stay in Condition Yellow to and from work, watching for people who may be tailing you," recommends Bob Willis, a survivor of a retaliation attack and now a police trainer at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. "Don't let fatigue, worry about personal problems or daydreaming cause you to miss danger cues."