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Off-Duty Policing: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Off-Duty Policing: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Dr. Richard Weinblatt, “The Cop Doc”

As on off duty officer, you have to decide if you have the equipment needed to intervene. If you do so, than you should have certain equipment with you. At a minimum, you should have your badge and ID card displayed in a visible manner, a working and cleaned firearm with at least one extra high capacity magazine, a fully charged cell phone, and handcuffs.

4) Family. Family is a biggie in the policing world. Many vets of the biz, including me, think it is imperative to place your family’s safety first above all else. If your family is with you, you should try to keep out of a confrontation. Seeing a violent confrontation is dangerous for your children both physically as well as emotionally.

If you have to intervene, or if the bad guy comes after you and the choice is made for you, have a pre-arranged code that your family knows. That is their cue to move away from you and head quickly to a safe location where they summon the troops to help you. In a critical incident, you need to be able to operate with a clear head free of concern or worry for their well-being.

5) Identification. The ID and badge mentioned above is central to this point. Many officers from Providence to New York City to Los Angeles have been killed by responding on duty officers because they did know that the person with a gun was an off-duty crime fighter. This is particularly true in larger jurisdictions where not all officers know each other by face.

If you do step in before the uniformed folks are on scene, make sure that they know who you are upon their arrival so a tragic shooting doesn’t happen. Some agencies use a color of the day to help avoid this tragic scenario but that is applicable for the most part for their on duty, plainclothes operatives.

Many off-duty badge bearers have a visibly marked smock “police” or “sheriff” printed in bold, block lettering. The smock is folded in a fanny pack and thrown on the torso in times of emergency intervention to help in establishing authority.

As with on duty officers, it is also advisable to use loud, repetitive verbal commands telling the suspect or suspects what you need them to do. Those commands should be given and they generate useful witnesses. Add additional safety by stating your authority in clear unmistakable terms with: “police officer” or “deputy sheriff.”

If the first responders don’t pick up on that, follow their commands closely and don’t move your weapon in their direction. They may have tunnel vision causing them to focus on that firearm in your hand that appears bigger than it really is and negates their perception of that small badge hanging around your neck.

6) Document. Just like when an officer takes action in an on-duty capacity, the work is not done until the documentation is done. It is vitally important to take the time to document the incident carefully. You may need those reports later in criminal or civil legal proceedings.

While the nature of confrontations means that they are hard to control, that chaos that can ensue is particularly an issue when deciding whether to intervene as an off duty crime fighter. By taking the above steps, you should be able to minimize the dangers to you and your family and keep true to your oath to serve and protect the community.

Dr. Richard Weinblatt, “The Cop Doc,” is a former police chief, ex busy jurisdiction patrol deputy sheriff, and criminal justice educator who has written articles and provided media commentary since 1989. He can be reached via

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