Officer safety: It's not just an on-duty thing

Submitted by:
Richard B. Weinblatt, columnist and Police Academy Program Manager/Professor, Seminole Community College, Sanford, FL


So much is written in this and other venues regarding officer safety.  It's also a topic that police trainers cover extensively.  Even with the popularity of of the officer safety topic, many law enforcers end their officer safety thinking when they're off the clock.
As with other tactical issues in law enforcement, planning is the key to successfully accomplishing the public safety mission.  Here are some officer safety issues to consider in your off-duty life:

1) Do you have the equipment to get the job done?  When you're on-duty, you have all of your equipment such as firearm with extra ammunition, shotgun, vest, handcuffs, pepper spray, expandable baton, Taser, etc.  And of course the first step in that use of force continuum, your officer presence via your uniformed authority.  When you are off-duty, you may not have any of these.

2) Do you have adequate communication with the responding officers? You probably don't have a radio and you may not even have a cell phone.  Will the responding officers know who you are or will they perceive you as a subject with a gun to be dealt with?

3) Will responding officers know you are an officer?  An inability to adequately identify an officer out of uniform can be deadly as was evidenced by the January 2000 off-duty shooting of Providence, RI, Police sergeant Cornell Young outside of a diner.  That incident shows, on-duty, responding officers may not know who you are. Even if you have a badge hanging from a chain around your neck or in your weak hand, they will most likely focus on the gun in your strong hand.  This happened locally recently with the tragic shooting of plainclothes University of Central Florida Police officer Mario Jenkins by an Orlando police officer responding to a man with a gun situation.

4) What about your family?  If you are off-duty and out and about, chances are you with your family.  Consider whether you want to expose them to a situation.  Will they be in physical danger or see a use of force that you would not want them to.

Additionally, I always had a plan worked out with my family that they should walk away instantly if I told them to and call 911.  They understood that it could be because while shopping we ran into a gang member or other individual that I locked up previously that posed a viable threat.

5) Are you being observant? Many officers I know are remarkably keen on-duty, but seem to miss things when they are off-duty.

Officer safety is not just for your on-duty life.  It is for your whole life, including off-duty.

Dr. Richard Weinblatt, a Dean and Criminal Justice Professor, as well as former police chief and police academy manager, has amassed quite a bit of education, training and experience in training law enforcement officers. 

This column, made up of officer safety advice, training guidance, police media relations commentary, and other tips, is written to assist you in the discharge of your duties as you serve your community. 

Please feel free to contact Dr. Weinblatt through with your ideas and input for future columns.

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