I’ve discussed the combative mind and how to achieve it in columns past. This topic usually generates positive comments from the readers of Law Officer, and it should. After all, the history of armed conflict has proved prevailing in a gun fight is 10% technique and 90% attitude. The truth is, no matter how prepared you may be physically, if you’re not prepared mentally and are unaware of an attack before it happens, then you probably won’t be an active participant in your own rescue.
This is never more apparent than when an officer is off-duty. It’s important to think about off-duty confrontations and consider several important points before something happens. Why? To answer this question, consider the dynamics of the off-duty confrontation. You’re all alone with no available back-up, no radio communication, no “batman belt” filled with gear, no shotgun or carbine, no support equipment—at all.
Many officers don’t carry a gun off-duty. One young officer told me that not only did he not carry an off-duty gun, he didn’t even own one. “When I’m off, I’m off. I’m not a cop on my own time,” he said. Many officers misunderstand the primary reason for an off-duty weapon: It’s to protect you and yours from the type of offenders you deal with while on the job.
How many people have you arrested during your police career? Hundreds? Thousands? You have no idea? OK, how many of them do you remember? Do you think they might remember you? What about the circumstances of the arrest? Did you embarrass them in front of their family, friends or peers on the street? Do you think that such a situation could create a bit of animosity toward you? Let me give you a bit of harsh reality: You can count on it!
Let’s ponder a few important points and give them due consideration.
Have You Prepped Your Family?
Years ago, I took my young family on vacation in North Carolina. The Community Protection Act (House Bill 218) didn’t exist then so I was carrying my concealed handgun illegally in the state at the time. I’m not proud of it, and it caused me some personal angst. But I also realized that bad things happen to good people in nice places, so I chose to carry while I was there. In the end, I was glad I went “healed” because I ran into a felon from my area.
While in a roadside store, I was approached by a subject who remembered me from my time at the jail. He said he’d “been in county when you were working there” and made a comment about it being a “small world.” He then said, “You know you’re in North Carolina. You’re not a cop down here—no gun or badge. If I want to take you on, I could.”
I turned, moved my hand near my holstered sidearm and said, “I might not be a cop down here, but who says I don’t have a gun!” He paused and looked at me for a few seconds before walking away without further comment. The rest of my vacation I was looking over my shoulder whenever I took my family out anywhere.
The truth is, you can run into these types of people wherever you go. What will you do if you’re not armed? Who’s likely to be with you when such a confrontation starts? In my case, I was fortunate that my family was safe inside the car. Will your wife and children be standing between you and the threat when it unexpectedly comes your way? Using cover is the primary tactic when rounds are inbound. Can you quickly find cover and get you and your family behind it? Talk to your family about this beforehand and instruct them about what to do. Bottom line: You’ll be at a serious tactical disadvantage if you don’t.
To Engage or Disengage?
At what point do you draw your gun and take action or just get away? To me, the hierarchy of threat management is avoid, evade and counter—in that order. Anytime you can get away—even if it threatens your “take action” cop image—you should do so. Your family is too important to gamble their lives. There have been instances where innocent people, including children, have been killed because off-duty cops have taken action when it might not have been necessary.
“But I could stop a crime,” you might protest.
Crimes occur all the time and are usually solved because someone was a good witness. If lives aren’t directly threatened, being a trained witness and not drawing attention to yourself and your family is wise. Engagement should be reserved for those situations in which you’ve decided ahead of time are worth the risk of injury or death, and these should be few. Your own safety and the safety of your family and the general public should be your primary consideration, not stopping a crime in progress.
In addition, consider whether your agency will back your actions. I think it’s safe to say that a lawsuit will accompany almost any gunfight. Will your agency represent you or throw you under the bus? There are things worth fighting, dying and being sued over. You just need to consider what these are beforehand.
When Carrying Off-Duty
1. Talk to your family beforehand and instruct them what to do.
2. Know the hierarchy of threat management: avoid, evade and counter—in that order.
3. Understand that trouble can come your way anytime, at any place.
4. Carry your gun in the same place—at all times. Also, carry back-up ammo and a compact
Do You Have the Necessary Mindset?
The word mindset is defined as a set path based on a previous decision, a previous decision based on reason and intellect. A previous decision is something you have thought about and acted on beforehand. Working to deal with something before it happens is the secret to preparing for the off-duty confrontation. It starts with an understanding that trouble can come your way anytime, at any place. It’s the same as the armed citizen who chooses to get a CCW permit because they want to be prepared if trouble arrives. Do you carry a spare tire in your car? Do you have health insurance? How about a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher in your home? An alarm system? You buy these things hoping you will never need them, but if you do, they’re there. The off-duty gun and mindset that must accompany it is the same thing—but with even greater importance. Your ability to see and act will be divided between the threat and those whom you’re protecting (i.e., your family).
If you think engaging in gunplay is tough, divide your ability to concentrate between the threat and the people you love. With all due respect to those who think the OODA Loop means you will smoothly go from Observation to Orientation to Decision to Action—think again. Orientation is a complicated process that includes personal biases, cultural heritage, constant incoming information and a continually unfolding situation—all of which can create serious confusion and hesitation. If you must take time to orient yourself to what’s happening, you might not end up being a participant in the fight. You’ll be the victim of a crime instead.
Do You Have the Gear You Need to Prevail?
What gun should I carry? How about your service pistol? This is the gun you’ve trained with most. You’ve probably trained with it in reduced light and bad weather. It will likely be the gun you’ll shoot best. Getting a quality concealment holster isn’t the problem. The problem will be choosing the one that will serve you best. I would suggest you mount the gun/holster on the strong side at belt level similar to duty carry. If that gun is just too big, how about a compact version of the same gun? (See Chris Boyd’s take on this topic on p. 40.)
When I was carrying a Smith & Wesson, my off-duty gun was the trimmer 3913. It had the manual of arms but was trimmer, lighter and easier to carry. I felt very confident in my ability to use it. Remember: Confidence in one’s skill is the biggest factor in overcoming fear. How about spare ammunition and a compact flashlight? No one ever wants to think they’ll miss, but history has shown that, in the pandemonium of a fight, we miss more than we hit. You can never have too much ammo. How about your ability to find and identify a threat in reduced light? Is there really any less concern with this just because you’re off-duty? Compact but powerful white lights are easy to find and purchase.
Once you select the gun and related concealment gear, carry it all the time in the same place. When the time comes that you need it to save your life or the lives of those you love, you’ll be glad you did.
Developing the Combative Mind
Hear Dave Spaulding talk about this topic Jan. 17 at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
For more information, visit www.shotshow.org/leep.