Heroes Beside The Badge: Active Shooter Guide For LEO Spouses
By Andrew C. Cannito, Founder and Vice President of the Homeland Security Network at American Military University
Active shooter incidents are becoming more frequent within the United States, as well as the rest of the world. For most people, this type of incident is an unexpected tragedy with permanent impact to its victims. Police officers, however, spend a considerable amount of time preparing their responses to active shooter scenarios.
But what happens when an active shooter incident occurs when a law enforcement officer (LEO) is off duty? What happens when a shooting scenario occurs while an officer is out in public, enjoying everyday freedoms with his or her family?
On duty, officers know the dangers. Every time they put on their uniforms, officers are in a mindset that they must be ready for anything. However, when they are off duty, officers have families to worry about as well as the countless civilians around them.
It is more important than ever that LEO spouses know what to do if they ever find themselves involved in an active shooter scenario. Here are some basic tips to help keep LEO spouses and their families safe.
Have a Plan
From the day officers take that oath to serve and protect, LEO spouses must understand that their lives have changed forever. Spouses no longer have the luxury of blissful ignorance; they must be ready for anything.
Becoming a member of “the blue family” carries with it an inherent risk. It can almost be guaranteed that at some point, officers will encounter someone in public with whom they have had a less-than-cordial encounter due to their jobs.
Most law enforcement officers carry a weapon while they’re off duty. If and when the moment arises where a LEO needs to exercise his or her authority off duty, spouses need to know what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Every LEO inevitably worries about his or her family in this situation. Becoming an educated LEO spouse and having a plan about how to react to an active shooter incident alleviates some of that worry for LEOs.
Know Your Role as LEO Spouses
Whether you are a spouse who carries a concealed weapon or one who does not, understand that engaging the threat is a LEO’s job, NOT YOURS! Most spouses should focus on taking cover, calling 911 and getting out safely, if possible. If there are children involved, this responsibility becomes even more critical.
One of the best things spouses can do to help their LEO is to call 911. Every time LEOs pursue a threat while they’re in plain clothes and off duty, they are in danger of being mistaken for the threat, especially in today’s active shooter threat environment.
Spouses should learn how to remain calm and collected when making that 911 call. In life-or-death situations, the body’s natural response is “fight, flight or freeze.” Officers should train spouses in tactical breathing techniques and other ways to stay calm during high-stress situations.
Sometimes the best support a LEO spouse can lend is to be a good witness. When they make that 911 call, spouses should give the operator the best information possible to end the incident as quickly as possible. LEO spouses should provide information about the exact location, landmarks and other noteworthy information that the spouse can see, hear, smell, etc. In addition, spouses should make sure to be in a safe location, out of danger, before calling 911.
LEO spouses should tell an operator that the LEO is off duty and pursuing the threat. They should describe in detail what the LEO is wearing as well as what the LEO looks like including height, weight or build, hair color, etc. When on-duty law enforcement arrives at the scene, responding officers will know that there is an off-duty officer inside who is armed and engaging the suspect. They’ll know exactly what the officer looks like so there’s no confusion between the officer and the suspect.
Listen to your LEO
An active shooter situation is not the time for arguing. When I first had the conversation about potentially dangerous incidents with my fiancé, she almost immediately began arguing with me and told me she was not going to run away while I was in danger.
Commendable as this attitude may be, there is no room for argument in the heat of an active shooter situation. LEOs are well-educated and highly trained professionals whose job it is to go towards a threat. If an LEO tells a spouse to “take the kids and go,” then the spouse should do so without asking, “Why?” or “What’s wrong?”
Remember, an officer’s fear for the safety of his or her family can be a potential weakness in an officer’s mental armor. Officers may be less than patient, especially in dangerous situations such as an active shooter.
Spouses must try to realize that an officer’s attitude stems from a genuine concern for their safety. For officers to effectively do their jobs, they need to know that their loved ones are not in harm’s way. They can focus entirely on stopping the threat and saving lives.
Every LEO family is different, so the details of an active shooter plan will also be different. What is most important is that LEO families have discussed and made a plan and everyone knows and understands their roles. Family members should be ready to listen and act, according to instructions from their LEO.
It is no easy job being a LEO spouse. But when people choose to marry into the blue family, they accept a certain degree of uncertainty in life. Following the guidance in this blog post will build awareness and ensure the safety of officer spouses and family members, should they ever be involved in an active shooter event.
About the Author: Andrew Cannito has been a member of the emergency services community for about 10 years and has served in the United States Army for more than seven years. He currently works as a federal law enforcement officer. Andrew has worked in various disciplines with the public safety sector and continues to expand his diverse knowledge of the homeland security field. Andrew has an associate degree in fire protection technology from Schenectady County Community College and a bachelor’s degree in homeland security from American Military University. In April of 2015, Andrew founded and became the first elected President of the Homeland Security Network at American Military University.