7 tips for better off-duty awareness
1. Be aware that the station parking lot can be a “watched” zone.
It’s common and understandable for officers to call an impromptu bull session in the station lot next to their private vehicles after a shift. It seems like—and for the most part is—a safe location. However, remember that someone bent on IDing your personal car and determining when exactly you enter and leave the lot could be watching from the outside. If your lot is an easy target for surveillance, consider talking inside the stationhouse or around the corner or anywhere not so readily seen. And if you do end up talking outside in the lot, consider doing that away from your personal car so it’s not quite so obvious what you’re driving. When you get to your personal vehicle, get in and go.
2. Watch your back.
When you’re driving home or anywhere else off duty, particularly right after a shift, scan your mirrors and keep an eye out for any vehicle that appears to be following you. Maintain the same level awareness for someone following you on foot if you have to stop somewhere after work. Make it a habit to look around and behind you intermittently to see if you spot someone keeping an eye on you.
3. Get into civilian clothes.
If you’re driving home in your personal car, get out of the uniform. You never know when you might be driving by someone who’s not a cop fan and who now, after spotting your uniform shirt, sees an opportunity to follow you home.
4. Don’t be predictable.
Don’t make it easy for someone bent on confronting you off duty to get a fix on your timing. Vary your route home and vary your timing if possible. If a bad guy is able to pinpoint with near perfect accuracy where you’ll be and when after a shift or on your way to work, you may have made his mission easier. Stay as unpredictable as possible.
5. Look around when you come in and out of your house.
Make it a point to look down the street. See any cars that you don’t usually see in the neighborhood? Have you, oddly enough, seen that same mysterious car a few days in a row and noticed that it seems to move when you move? If so, look into it. The main key is to stay alert for anything out of the ordinary and to dig further should you sense a possible problem. It could be nothing, but blowing it off or not noticing could prove to be a mistake.
6. Engage your trusted neighbors.
It’s pretty typical for at least a couple of neighbors to know you’re a cop. Assuming they’re trusted, ask them to let you know if they see anything out of the ordinary going on when you’re not around or when you’re not looking. Have they noticed a particular car driving slowly by your house when you’re not home or when you’re inside? Have they noticed anyone walking down your street and paying particular attention to your house when they walk by? You should let them know that you want to know about even the slightest thing that might seem strange or give them pause and that they shouldn’t feel foolish clueing you in, even if they think it’s “probably nothing.”
7. Get your family involved.
This is for their sake and yours. If you’re together as a family, let them know that they should alert you to anything they notice as well – like a car that drove by and paid a suspiciously high amount of attention to your car. You should also consider teaching them to keep an eye out for people following them as well. You’ll want to do this within reason with your kids to avoid undue fear and paranoia, but a healthy level of general awareness can be critical to law enforcement family safety.