I have talked about this before: every police officer should carry at least one firearm off-duty. There are many specific reasons for carrying a handgun when you are not on the job, but they all boil down to one reason: you may need it.
There have been plenty of instances where armed, off-duty officers were able to take action to stop a violent crime and defend themselves and members of the public. Yet, there seem to be some officers that don’t seem to get it.
Carry Survey – Dismal Results
PoliceOne did a survey of law enforcement officers and their off-duty carry choices. The results were indicative of how complacent a lot of police officers are.
According to the survey, less than half (only 43%) of the respondents always carry a firearm while off-duty. While another 15% “rarely” or “never” carry off duty. I guess this means that less than half of the responding police officers truly believe that they can encounter a deadly force situation while they are away from the job…a situation in which the lives of their families and their own can hang in the balance.
The 15% who never or rarely carry off duty should re-evaluate their career choice, because they do not have the right mental attitude to be a cop. Sound harsh? The real world is.
You never know what you may encounter off-duty, but these 15% have made the decision to not be an active participant in their own survival while out of uniform. If they don’t care enough about their own life when they are off the clock to slip a pistol into their pocket or onto their waistband, then they probably aren’t setting any good examples of officer safety on the clock either.
If you don’t carry a gun off duty, and you think you have a legitimate reason (like you are bullet proof)…leave a comment. I would love for someone to prove to me that they do not need to carry a pistol while out of uniform.
Let’s go over a few examples why off duty officers need both a firearms coupled with the proper mindset and tactics.
Mass Murder Prevention
On December 5, 2007 in Omaha, Nebraska, some nut-job decided to start killing innocent Christmas shoppers in the Westroads Mall. Initial reports indicate a 19 year old male carried a rifle into the the mall and began shooting shoppers and clerks. The incident ended only when the gunman turned his rifle on himself. In other words, the carnage would have continued, and dozens more would be dead, if he hadn’t committed suicide.
I assume Omaha PD responded with all due haste and implemented their active shooter plan. Even so, they arrived too late to stop the killing. As we saw in the Trolley Square shooting, one off-duty cop with one gun was able to stop the killing long enough for the on-duty officers to arrive on scene and dispatch the murderer.
There is no telling if an off-duty officer was in the area, or if they were in a position to respond. But if you are there, and you have no way to deal with the threat, you are just another casualty. You MUST be an active participant in your own survival.
The next shooter may not kill himself. The next shooter may be killing people where your family is shopping, or where your children are in school. Pray for the best, but be ready to do what you must.
For these kinds of incidents, you may need more than a single magazine or cylinder of ammo. Make sure you know how to load your revolver quickly, and consider having some sort of clear identification so responding officers don’t mistake you for a bad guy. As this badge study suggests, merely having your shield is no guarantee of being spotted as an off duty police officer.
Common Violent Crime
Of course, not every violent encounter you may have off duty is with a spree killer. It is more likely to be a common criminal you run into.
Saturday, an off-duty SWAT member with the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida, shot an armed robber, ending the violent attempt at a Winn Dixie supermarket. The would-be robber, who was out of prison on early release for armed robbery, had already fired his shotgun to make entry into an office to obtain money. According to the press, the SWAT officer walked in on the robbery, returned to his car to obtain his firearm, and then confronted the robber.
A few key points in this incident:
- Excellent job by the officer to end this situation. An argument could be made to have let this dirtbag go, rather than try to stop him while off-duty. However, the officer on the scene made the decision to intervene, and accomplished the mission. Good work!
Carry your gun(s) on your person. If the officer encountered the subject before he had time to return to his car, he would have been facing a shotgun-toting felon unarmed. Keeping a rifle in the car isn’t a bad idea (see the next point), but if you can’t get back to the car, you’ve got to fight with what you brought.
The felon was wearing body armor. Plan and train for this eventuality. Police officers should train with the “failure to stop” drills (you know… put a bullet in the head/brain box/cranial vault). If you have a handgun, chances are your rounds will not penetrate body armor. A rifle in the car is your best bet, but it is very unlikely you will have the time to get to it.
Again, good work to the KSC officer for excelling in the most difficult encounter any of us is likely to face.
As a police officer, you regularly arrest people. Very few want to go to jail. Some will fight, some will run their mouth about “seeing you off-duty.”
Anyone you have arrested can want revenge. Rarely will anyone act on those desires, but there is no way to know who will show up on your doorstep one day with revenge on their mind.
There have been numerous cases of police officers and their families being attacked at home because of on-duty incidents.
For example, in January 2007, two men bent on revenge against Jackson County (FL) Sheriff John P. McDaniel, followed his wife home and murdered her and Deputy Harold “Mike” Altman that responded to her call for assistance.
While this particular case is horrific, it is not unique. Many police officers have been attacked off duty for the work they do. Additionally, family members are targeted as well. Carry your pistol in case you need to protect yourself and them.
Sitting in a Car
A common place where people are attacked is in parking lots and at traffic lights. In both cases, you may have to fight for your life from a seated position. Having a pistol is important, but so is being able to access it.
Consider this Atlanta PD officer.
An Atlanta Police Department recruit officer was sitting in his personal car when he was approached by a teenager armed with a shotgun. The off-duty recruit officer had been sitting in his car in the parking lot of his apartment complex using the free community wireless Internet on his laptop when the criminal approached him and ordered the officer out of the car.
The quick-thinking Atlanta officer used his laptop computer to conceal his hand as he brought his pistol to bear on the offender. The criminal, looking at the computer instead of his victim, never saw the officer’s gun that ended his criminal activity.
While someone, I’m sure, mourns the loss of the criminal teen, society should not. Robbing people at gunpoint suggests this criminal would have been a parasite on the Atlanta community, causing much pain and grief for innocent, law-abiding people in his community. According to one news article, the decedent had a history of armed robbery.
The lessons of this story for officers should be the following:
- Always carry a firearm off-duty. You may never need it, but if you do, nothing else is an adequate substitute.
- Do not hesitate to act. When your life is in danger, decisive action with overwhelming force is your best chance for survival. Hesitation betrays your intentions. The moment when you can act will pass quickly, and you may not get a second chance.
- Be careful where you sit. Although this officer was off-duty in his personal car, the lesson is applicable to on-duty status as well. Most of us sit in our car to do our paperwork. Make sure you choose a relatively safe location to do so. A place where you can see who is approaching and where you have an escape route is good. Sitting with another officer so he or she can watch while you write (or type) is best.
- Continue shooting until the threat is neutralized. Early reports indicate that the Atlanta police recruit shot the criminal multiple times and the perp did not return fire. If a threat is worth shooting once, it is worth shooting twice…or 15 times. As long as someone is a threat, continue perforating them with bullets. Cease fire when the threat is no longer a threat.
- Always watch the suspect’s hands. This officer concealed the movement of his hands until he had brought his firearm to bear on the perp. Reverse the situation, and you are the cop on a traffic stop ordering the driver out of the car. Do not be distracted…watch the hands!
Off Duty Doesn’t Mean Out of Uniform
While we expect to face danger when we put on the uniform and head out on patrol, do we let our minds slip a little when we are still in uniform but working “off duty?” I sincerely hope not.
If you do get a little lax when working an off duty job, consider this incident that happened outside of Atlanta in 2008.
Officers Ricky Bryant Jr. and Eric Barker of the DeKalb County (GA) Police Department were shot and killed while working an off-duty job as police officers. The eventual arrest and trial of the suspect revealed that the officers were working security in their police uniforms at an apartment complex. The officers responded to a resident’s complaint about a suspicious man on the property. The suspect, who had three prior felony convictions, was in possession of a firearm and shot both officers in an effort to avoid a return trip to prison.
I am not here to second guess Officers Bryant and Barker, but to not address their deaths from a training perspective is to ignore the lessons that may save other officers’ lives. We know that they are not the only pair of police officers to be killed on the same call. In my previous article, Cover Your Partner and Watch Your Six, I talk about a few of the incidents in 2007 where multiple officers were killed in the same incident.
Two things we need to make sure that we do correctly on the street: contact and cover and searching from a position of advantage. Contact and cover is one of the best tactics that officers can use to maintain a safe working environment when dealing with suspicious people. One officer handles all of the interactions, while the second officer maintains an overwatch position. The cover officer watches the suspect and the surroundings looking for any possible danger.
The second thing officers must do is to establish a position of advantage when searching people. Placing people against vehicles, walls, etc. does not place the officer in the position of advantage. Reduce the suspect’s ability by pulling them off balance and controlling their hands. Don’t get lazy when frisking or searching people.
Keep Officer Bryant’s and Officer Barker’s families in your prayers, and make sure you come home to yours tonight.