Keep your “Spidey senses” working off-duty, and don’t put your awareness away with your uniform. Photo Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN TRAINING
Nowadays, there’s really no such thing as an “off-duty” mental status. Instead, I recommend you do the following while off-duty:
- Arm yourself with a firearm and at least one less-lethal option;
- Avoid troubled areas, places of business and people; and
- Don’t intervene unnecessarily or invoke your police status unless you absolutely have to.
Now, let’s flesh out these concepts a bit.
Off-Duty Officer Killed in Robbery, Burglary, Car-Jacking, Domestic
Off-duty cops have been killed in each type of encounter listed above, as well as being ambushed walking to their cars after their tours of duty, washing their cars in their own driveways, visiting relatives, stopping for groceries, etc. Indeed, it’s been said that “during off-duty, the calls come to you.” But if you’re switched off mentally, you may walk into a “fecal thunderstorm” unaware and unprepared to respond.
The truth is, mental lag time on the street can cost you, whether you’re on-duty or off. But being off-duty already means that you have fewer capabilities readily available (e.g., no partner or other officers with you, no long-gun, body armor, radio). This means that maintaining a high level of mental functioning is perhaps even more important when you’re off-duty, as you’re essentially your own back-up during these times.
We’re a mobile society. But just as cars transport us to all types of different places and events, bad guys also use vehicles for their activities, too—transporting drugs, guns and cronies on various expeditions. While off-duty, many cops drive nice cars that attract attention. This has led to more than one off-duty officer being involved in a car-jacking or shooting. We tend to think of our vehicles as safe zones, just like our houses or other domiciles. Coupled with a good stereo or an engaging cell phone conversation to distract us, we may momentarily drop our guard and ignore the car that’s following us or the bad-guy that’s approaching in our blind spot at a traffic light.
This is why we must remember to scan and check our six (especially at a choke point) to avoid a potential ambush. I’m remembering the story of off-duty LAPD Officer Stacy Lim and her shoot-out with attempted car-jacking suspects in front of her home back in 1990. Lim’s extreme readiness (having her pistol in hand as she exited her SUV) saved her life, although she was still grievously wounded in the shoot-out. For more information on avoiding ambushes, see my previous article.
Carry Your Gun & a Less-Lethal Option Off-Duty
When some thug reaches for his pistol and all you have are good intentions, you’re in a bad place. Similarly, when confronted with multiple assailants off-duty who are threatening to stomp you, you’re in a deadly force situation. This is why you should carry a weapon off-duty. Although doing this is often a drag, without a weapon the odds are seriously stacked in favor of your assailants.
One of my officer survival mentors is Evan Marshall, a retired sergeant from the Detroit PD. Marshall carried a weapon with him everywhere, and this practice saved his hide on a number of different occasions. I’ve always heeded Marshall’s example, and it’s paid off for me, as well.
Several years ago, some crack-head tried to rob me while I was on-duty in plainclothes. After the incident, I was astounded by the number of officers in the training bureau that day who said they didn’t carry their pistol.
Carry your freakin’ pistol! And at least one reload! Furthermore, there are a multitude of different holsters available nowadays that enable male and female officers of all different sizes and shapes to carry concealed weapons off-duty. Give yourself a fighting chance, and carry off-duty!
In addition, carry some form of less-lethal force (e.g., OC keychain spray, a C2 Taser). You’re more likely to be confronted with a non-deadly force threat than a deadly one, so it makes sense to have that option available to you.
Trainers like John Farnam (another mentor of mine) are recommending that you carry a rifle in your privately owned vehicle. A small carbine like a Thompson Auto Ordnance M-1 with the synthetic folding stock can be carried in a tennis racket bag and placed in the passenger compartment with you while in transport. To some it may seem like overkill, but ultimately it’s you and your family’s lives at stake. Better safe than sorry!
With the prevalence of CCW laws throughout the country, it’s entirely possible that your spouse, significant other, family member or friend might be similarly armed. If so, a little preplanning on how you’ll react and what you should do if the situation takes a turn for the worse might be well worth the effort.
Avoidance: Your Best Strategy
Sadly, many a cop’s career has been trashed in incidents occurring at locations and with people they should’ve avoided in the first place. I’ve always had a great rule: If you go there on a disturbance or fight call while on duty, don’t go there off-duty. Working police officers know where high-crime areas are and how these areas are filled with criminal suspects waiting for their next opportunity to strike. Why would an off-duty officer invite trouble by going to these locations?
Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you can find yourself in trouble. In these situations, attempt to find a safe exit and call your on-duty guys and gals for help. As a rookie with my current agency (I had eight years experience prior as a deputy), I was off-duty at a local department store when I spotted an escaped felon. This was before the days of small pocket-sized cell phones, so I walked around and exited the building to look for a pay phone to call it in. The only phone turned out to be at the service counter. I called in my name and explained the situation to get the troops rolling in my direction.
The suspect (as well as the man and woman he was with) left the store. I was armed with a Smith & Wesson 3913 in a then-new DeSantis Gunny Sack, but there were three suspects to contend with, so I had a tough decision to make. I ended up making the arrest by approaching the suspect, identifying myself, revealing who I thought the suspect was, and then taking him into custody. The troops I had called arrived soon after, and no use of force was ultimately necessary (although I had explained my sincere capacity to inflict damage if the suspect resisted).
My mentor Evan Marshall’s advice about being a good witness and not getting involved ran through my head, and I was prepared to either escalate the situation or back off if necessary.
In any event, be especially wary of chasing suspects on foot and, if you decide to invoke your police powers as I did that day, be mindful of how far out in the breeze you’re exposing your derriere.
A veteran street cop once told me about an encounter he had with a suspect back in the day who called him a “pig” while he was in uniform. He told the young man that when he was off-duty and not wearing his uniform, he looked like everyone else, but he called the young man a jackass and told him that he was on duty 24 hours a day. Remember: There are people who are jackasses out there 24/7, and some of them are dangerous.
Keep your “Spidey senses” working off-duty, and don’t put your awareness away with your uniform. Make sure to carry a decent-sized firearm while off-duty and at least one reload and some kind of less-lethal tool. Stay away from trouble spots and troubled people. Don’t pull out your badge or say the magic words, “I’m a police officer,” if at all possible when you’re off-duty.
Overall, be aware my brothers and sisters, because bad things can and do happen to good officers. The question is: Will you be prepared if and when it happens to you?