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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

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    @ Anonymous:

    WOW! I thought I had heard of some chickenshit policies before, but that one takes the cake!!!! I am a retired SC LEO and never knew that N Augusta had policies like that. I would recommend that an officer working for such a jurisdiction obtain a CWP for their state, if such is possible in their given jurisdiction. Fortunately, since 96, SC has had a, "Shall Issue", CWP law. I got mine back before HR-218 because it gave me legal standing when carrying in certain other states which we had reciprocity with. People used to ask why I had a CWP when I could carry off of my badge. I had to explain the out of state thing to them as well as the policy of my department. While I was never suspended, I was keenly aware that it could easily happen for little things like missing a court hearing by accident or coming in late. While I can understand it for serious things like stealing, corruption (bribes), and other violations of law, I never understood the part of the policy which required you to turn in your badge, ID, and gun, for minor policy violations resulting in suspension. Had such happened to me, the CWP would have still afforded me legal carry. When I retired, it was a few months before my department got around to qualifying me for HR-218 so the CWP was a blessing to carry off of. I still renew it every four years as it covers any gaps that might occur if I don't get to renew my HR-218 credentials before they expire, one year from last qualification. One other perk about being retired is that I no longer have to pay the $50 renewal fee. Retired LEO's and disabled vets get theirs for free in this state.

    Some years ago, I read an excellent article by Massad Ayoob on why cops living in places where they can do so, should obtain a CWP. In addition to the reasons above, Mas made note that if you were forced to shoot someone while off-duty, in some cases and under certain circumstances, it might be to your legal advantage if you did so as a lawfully armed civilian, rather than as a police officer. I forget a lot of the content of the article but I recall that it made a lot of sense at the time I read it.

    Needless to say, I try to avoid going anywhere that I cannot be armed. I have seen too many cases and read of many more where bad things happen to good people who are not adequately prepared to deal with them.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    One other things - do you believe that you are onduty 24/7? Is that something you heard or is it in your agency's policy manual? Officers hurt stepping in to intervene while off duty or making an arrest at a secondary employment (part-time job), have been denied Worker's compensation by their municipality. Make sure you are covered - especially for long-term disabling injuries.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    I agree USLaw man1983 comments. Cause(New york to LosAngeles)off duty & on duty cops-where not all officers know each other by face.I think, if any signal create off duty & on duty officers both each other know.

  • Uniform_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I have always thought that a great cop is on duty on and off the clock but I agree with most of you that it depends on the situation and if it will be helpful or needed to get involved.

  • 2011_range_day_2-19-10_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I always carry off-duty. Not to enforce the law but to save lives, starting with my own, my familiies, my fellow LEOs, and innocents.

  • Field_sniper_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Great article....true words of wisdom for all. Stay safe out there brothers and sisters. Keep a level head, make the right call, and keep the right people alive.

  • Fmf_badge_max50


    over 4 years ago


    When my father was a C.o.P. he told us several times that he was on duty 24/7, unless we were on vacation. In our home region Dad would not hesitate to enforce the laws of the state, county, or community. He always carried a small .38cal S&W Chief's Special when "off duty" as well as a set of cuffs. I have been with him when he has made arrests when we were supposed to be on our own time. He arrested poachers while we hunted or fished. I have been with him when he would pull out the red light and stop someone for a traffic violation. Dad did not have a bullet resistant vest like the LEO's do today, in the later years of his carreer he did have a military style Flak Vest, like that worn during the Nam conflict. Dad would not hesitate to arrest some one who violated the law when he was off duty. He would come home many a night looking like a chunk of hamburger, but he always arrested the "prep".

    On huntint trips I have seen my father take down armed violators, with out batting an eye and only with a threat of deadly force. My older brother and I where brought up in such a way that if we came upon a LEO in trouble we would stop and render aid in any fashion we could. But that was years in the past, today we could go to jail if we provided covering fire for an officer or if we intervened physically to help. It is a shame how things have changed since I was a younger person and not disabled.

    Today people are afraid to help the cops when they come upon a situation where they need help of some sort. They are afraid of being sued by the perp or their intentions being mistaken by the cop. We have counties in our state that are as large as some eastern states and my have less than a half dozen LEO's to patrol and answer calls for help and then it may take them more than an hour to get on scene. Things need to change, people need to be more active in helping the LEO's when they need help.

    You all have a onderful holiday season.

  • Funny_pictures_56616_max50


    over 4 years ago


    There's afine line between a great ( off duty ) witness and a Dead ( off duty ) hero. Be careful not to trip over it.
    Every situation is unique and your other Family needs you too. Be careful out there........its uglier than ever.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    I enjoyed the article, but lets face it. We see our brother or sister in blue having a problem, or some dog ass slapping their wife to the ground, we will react. That's what we're trained to do, however our officer safety should kick as well. Good brothers and sisters out there!

  • Sfa_iv_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Really enjoyed this article.

  • Mcso_patch_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Great read for me, as a newbie to law enforcement

  • 12235_sq90_max50


    over 4 years ago


    A good read.

  • M_6946ca1d848d9668dafcfd3d9aea06c5_max50


    over 4 years ago


    lets just face reality here....the crap hits the fan and you are are an off duty cop....reality is you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. you will either get hung out to dry by your dept that doesn't want the bad press because you did something or you get hung out to dry by the press because you didn't.

    the real decision is which choice can you sleep easiest with?

  • Larry_apache_dist_13_max50


    over 4 years ago


    In today’s PC Policing Policies taking action on off-duty incidents would not be wise, unless it is a serious felony. You can't be the Robo Cop 24/7; the odds of your police career lasting will result in burnout and unwarranted Internal Affairs investigations. I have seen more officers get into trouble from being second guessed in off duty crap, getting letters of instruction, days off and being fired. The job is hard enough not making any bad decisions while on duty, why would you want to increase your odds of not finishing your career. Think about it how many Lt's, Captain's, Majors and above get fired from sitting behind the desk, unless they have someone bent over it!!!!!!! Don't sweat the little shit, enjoy your off duty time and always carry your weapon and ID and don't forget to visit Arizona

  • Lieutenant_smith_max50


    over 4 years ago


    what difference does it makes? The officer is serving the town or county still. I believe if you put it to a vote the citizens are going to love having that Officer in that place. Once and final CITY AND COUNTY PAY THE OFFICERS A GREAT SALARY AND THIS NEED WOULD CAUSE THE CHIEFS TO STOP OFF DUTY. Y es this hurts the officers because some are cming to work not rested. However they have family to feed. Once PAY THEM.

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