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William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Family Preparation for Encounters

If you don't have a plan for how your loved ones will respond to off-duty incidents, make one now.

July 28, 2009  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Young officers, I know you are trained, sworn, and ready to serve. But let's play a game of what if. You and your date, spouse, close friend, and/or kid are out and about. You see something unfolding in front of you and go to intercede. What are the people with you going to do?

First thing to do is have a meeting and make the rules. Sit down and tell your loved ones about the circumstances in which you could envision yourself interceding in an incident when off-duty. First and foremost you would have to have the proper equipment and knowledge of laws and procedures (see other articles on off-duty preparation). But what equipment do they need?

The first thing your family member or friend needs is an action word or signal and a cell phone; this is starting the plan. If you are engaging in action, you cannot rely on osmosis to brief them. Give them a preplanned word/signal. Try not use police codes. Thugs know our signals, and displaying such knowledge could implicate your loved ones and endanger them as well.

Upon hearing the action word, they are to go to a place of safety. This could be anywhere out of the way such as a management office or a vehicle. They are to call 911 and provide the operator with any information pertinent to the situation:

What is happening: an off-duty officer is involved in a police action.

How you are dressed: it is important for the good guys to know what you look like.

If you are armed and others as well.

The perpetrator(s) physical description and if there are any coconspirators.


The 911 operator will continue to glean information, so the caller should prepare to stay on the phone for a play by play.

An important note to remember here is that "There is no such thing as a perfect plan" (Murphy's Laws of Combat). There will be variables to contend with. One of these could be finding yourself in a position where it may be best for your safety not to inject yourself into the action. For example, if your child is very young and there is no other caregiver with you or other person who could call 911 for you. Here, I suggest you become a professional witness. Do what you can, but do not endanger your child.   

If you do have wee ones who might be with you, teach them not to disclose who you are in public. This could be a situation where you cannot respond for whatever reason: their safety, you're outnumbered, or whatever. Your little one saying, "But Daddy, you are a policeman; you should arrest that man," is not what you want coming out for all to know. Your children need to know that not everyone is impressed with Daddy or Mommy being a cop.

One question you need to ask yourself is, Do you want to arm up your family? This is an important decision. Personally, I stick with my wife knowing the plan and having her street smarts; I do not want to risk having her become a target.

Could any of this happen to you? Yes, you will be somewhere (shopping, in the park, church, PTA) and somebody will ask your advice or recognize you and say, "Hey, you're a cop. Can't you help?" So, do you have a plan ready for this eventuality?

Train like others depend on you.

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