“If anything happens, I’m going to push you behind me,” my husband said as we headed to the mall. “I want you to make yourselves small and stay close to me. I’ll protect you.” A municipal LEO, he knew his way around guns. I was a Navy veteran with a concealed weapons permit and a mini-Glock in my purse. “Why can’t we stand side by side defending our family,” I wondered. Aren’t two armed good guys better than one? What if he needs me to protect him? Thank goodness, those questions never had to be answered. We never had to deal with an active shooter at the mall or a personal attack at our home. But if we did, I knew what he expected of me. Many law enforcement families have discussed tactics they would use if someone were to threaten them or their home. The officer has the department training and experience to know what to do instinctually. After all, it’s what they do for a living. The significant other, on the other hand, may have some training as well, but unless they too are an officer it won’t be nearly the same. Due to this, most officers have the expectation we will enter the gun fight at the last resort. In less extreme cases, this is what they’d like us to do.
Do Exactly What You’re Told
Although it can be tough to follow our spouse without question, it’s important to remember in cases where lethal force might be necessary we are not the ones who are trained to know what to do. “My first rule to my wife, in either an in-home intrusion or a public LE incident, is for her to do exactly what I tell her without hesitation or needing an explanation,” states Ron Corbin, retired Los Angeles Police Officer. “I am the one with more training (military and LE) in dealing with these situations and I don’t need for her to ask questions or ‘why’? Of course with 47+ years of marriage to her, this is probably the hardest thing she has to overcome…not questioning me or my actions with wifely curiosity.” At a time when an incident occurs, the family structure becomes a chain of command and the LEO is at the top.
Separate and Call for Help
Unless it’s necessary, don’t become part of the LEOs worry by staying attached at the hip. “My wife and I discussed repeatedly what course of action to take if I become involved in an off-duty incident,” former Chicago Police Officer and retired FBI agent John Wills says. “Her first responsibility is to separate herself (and the kids if they are with us) from me, find cover or a place to hide, and immediately call 911.” Retired Reno (NV) Police Officer Tim Dees adds, “Have a safe haven and rally point pre-designated. If this goes sideways, go to the car/rest room/food court/gas station/whatever, and I will come or send someone there as soon as I am able.” He also suggests knowing the correct terminology for an off-duty officer-involved incident so you can articulate that to dispatch. Begin the call with, “I am at (exact location). My husband is an armed police officer and (this is what’s happening).”
Be a Good Witness
One of the key things many officers mention they want their significant other to do is pay attention and document. Dees recommends the significant other record essential details his or her LEO might miss or forget in the rush. “Clothing description (including mine, to pass on to dispatch), license plates, direction of travel, cross streets, addresses,” he explains. If it’s safe to do so, capture the incident on your camera/video phone. Orient yourself and be aware of your surroundings so that you can give good directions. “My wife being handicapped knows to head to safety, call 911, and be the world’s best witness if it doesn’t compromise her safety,” says Guy Painter, retired Los Angeles Airport Police.
In certain scenarios it might be appropriate for a LEO’s significant other to act. To do so safety and with confidence, the partner should be familiar with, be confident and have trained with his or her firearm. “Once all other options have been exhausted or are not practical, firearms training (second nature) should take over,” explains Dave Cropp, retired Sacramento PD. “She has her own gun,” he explains about his wife. “One that fits her and she is comfortable using. I watch her practice and practice and only comment when needed. We talk about the nature of close-up combat, options for avoiding a gun fight, etc. She has to feel comfortable talking about these options.” Along with the ability to use a firearm, Cropp reminds us it is imperative that he or she can articulate and justify his or her use of force. “In the event she has to use her gun, she also has to validate why she did so…so that she can persuade the cops and lawyers that she identified options to avoid a gun fight. That it was a last option. That she had no choice. That she was well trained and only used the amount of force necessary to stop the threat.”
Being a part of a law enforcement officer’s life means that we could be dragged into a law enforcement response either in public or at our home. We are lucky to have well-trained and well-armed partners who have the experience to keep us and our families safe. If a situation does occur, this training kicks in and they need us to do certain things to assist and not be a part of the problem. Discuss the best way to handle a situation beforehand even if it requires a reminder right before you head out shopping.