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Justifying off duty preparedness to your family: A Street Survival Q & A

What do you say to future in-laws—or any family members or friends--who feel that carrying a gun off duty is disconcerting, dangerous and unnecessary? Recently, a Street Survival Seminar attendee asked that very question related and instructor Sgt. Betsy Brantner-Smith gave him the “ammo” he needed to clarify his position.

Here’s the discussion:

“I attended your Street Survival Seminar and the whole curriculum was a real eye opener to me. It completely altered the way I do traffic stops and also my attitude towards carrying a weapon off duty. I am now embarking on one of life’s greatest journeys...marriage. However, there is a major hang up that I need your help with.

“My future in-laws have some major issues with me carrying a gun 100% of the time, and they also do not like the whole "police lifestyle" as they call it. I have tried to explain to them that the gun is not going to jump off my ankle or hip and go bang, but they are adamant that they don't believe it’s necessary to carry off -duty.

“So, what I am hoping you can do for me is to provide a list of resources I can use to show them documentation and real-life stories of what can happen to an off-duty cop.

“Should I have to go through all this trouble to justify my decision to do something that could save my life (or their daughters)? Absolutely not. But, in the interest of trying to have a healthy, happy family support system I believe I should. These same people will be some of the folks I turn to in the event I am involved in a critical incident, so I really want them on the home team.

“Any help or advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated.”

Street Survival Seminar instructor Sgt. Betsy Smith responds:

First of all, congratulations on your upcoming nuptials! If you're trying this hard to get along with the in-laws, you're already off to a great start; let's see if I can't give you more "ammunition" (pun intended) to bring the in-laws over to "our side."

As you learned in the Street Survival seminar, 14% of police officer murders occur off duty. You need to start by sharing this fact with your fiancé and her parents.

Next, make sure your fiancé is on the same page with you. Discuss these issues with her. Teach her to shoot (if she doesn't already know how), show her how to access your weapon should you become incapacitated, teach her your tactics and how to follow your commands in a critical incident.

You may never need to employ any of this, but we often get only one chance to react properly in a critical incident, and as you know, if we don't have the proper mindset, we may not win the encounter. Let her know that you want to be safe and prepared off duty because you want to protect the person most precious to you, HER! (trust me, we women love that kind of talk).

Police officers often keep our families at arms length in a desire to protect them from "our" reality. Don't do this! Bring her into your world, share with her your training, your tactics, your mindset. Share with her your love of this profession, your pride in what your do for the community.

Police have a 75% divorce rate, and a successful police marriage takes hard work. Just make sure to reciprocate; don't make life all about you being a cop. Show interest in her job and her hobbies, respect her concerns and fears and beliefs. Become a "warrior family."

Next, talk to the in-laws. Let her parents know that your intention to be safe and prepared off duty is not the result of some macho desire to be a hero or a "Rambo," but rather to be prepared in case something critical occurs. Our families often say "do you have to be a cop 24 hours a day?!" The answer to that is "almost."

As we say in Street Survival: "On duty, you go to the calls, off duty, the calls come to you." While you're not going to chase a shoplifter through the Wal-mart when you're out doing your Saturday shopping, you'll want to react properly when you and your wife walk into the Pizza Hut for dinner and it's being robbed.

Tell the in-laws that on duty, it’s your job to protect the community, but off duty it’s your job to protect their daughter and anyone else you happen to be with (including them).

You're policing in a small town, which may cause your in-laws to wonder why you're worried about crime in the first place. Two things to share about that:

First, you are statistically more likely to be involved in a critical incident in your small town than you are in a major urban area. More officer fatalities occur in rural areas than in urban areas.

Second, because you police in a small town, the dirt bags are more likely to recognize you off duty. If you're sitting in a restaurant (or at a ball game or in church) with the family and the guy you arrested two nights ago for DUI or domestic battery walks in, you're a potential target.

If you're going to train to win on duty, you've got to carry those same principals with you off duty.

Take your future family to the range, show them the mechanics of your on and off duty weapons. Show them how safe both the weapon and the operator are. If you can't convince your in-laws to do this, at least take your fiancé. The public's fear and misconception about firearms is often borne of ignorance, so help them learn in a non-threatening environment.

Take them on a "ride-a-long," if your agency allows this. Get them involved in the Citizen Police Academy, bring them to a Street Survival seminar; do whatever you can do to bring them into our world.

A little about weapons at home (or at family gatherings, etc), which may be a concern for your in-laws. Make it a ritual to secure your weapon when you come home. Practice this and other safety measures as if you already have small children in the home. When you do have kids, teach them firearms safety rules as soon as they're old enough, and be diligent about gun safety in your home and in other homes.

If they continue to be "freaked out" by the gun, don't stop carrying it, but stop talking about it. Let them know that you love and respect them, but this is a decision that you alone need make…end of discussion.

To make the in-laws more comfortable, when you are carrying off duty, make sure you stay "casual" about your weapon and your tactics. Keep your gun concealed as much as possible (I wear an ankle holster most of the time) and minimize the cop talk at family gatherings. Often people are more intimidated by our job than by our weapons, but the gun becomes the focus because it is so visible.

Stay safe!

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