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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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Off-Duty Carry and Preparedness

A badge and gun isn't enough anymore.

February 14, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author


5.11 Tactical produces the COVRT 18, as an option for officers looking to avoid identification. Photo courtesy of 5.11 Tactical.

What should I carry off duty? Not again! I get this question nearly every week from readers and students. I believe most are asking for a product endorsement or caliber choice. In today's world, this question is more far ranging than ever.

Many are now transitioning toward a "gear or shoulder bag" or whatever other cool tactical name. I've gone through the badge and gun era, and then transitioned to the fanny pack era. Now, younger officers are in the backpack generation — throughout their school experience, they've had the pack, even more for the military veterans. Carrying a shoulder bag is not out of place in today's world. 

How should you select a shoulder or gear bag? Nearly every gear company has a backpack, slinger-type bag, or shoulder bag in all configurations. Personally, I carry a shoulder sling pack. Nearly every company and cop shop has a messenger shoulder-type gear bag available today in a variety of sizes and carry styles. Many are designed for concealed carry with built-in holster compartments. This is what I carry more and more every day.

Here's my rationale to support this. If I'm off duty and stumble into an evolving event, I'm going to need more than a piece of metal and handgun. Some of these bags reek "cop," so here's a suggestion from a tactical operator colleague. Get a sports team's logo or some designer logo, and put it on the outside of the bag for public view.

Look at the variety of colors that some bags offer; not all of the world wears SWAT black all the time. If a thug checks out your appearance, and observes this could be some designer special, they won't think "cop." It's all about blending in.

So what is in my carry bag? Along with the handgun, it should include:

  • Two magazines of good quality ammo
  • Official credentials case with extra business cards
  • Notebook with pen
  • Handcuffs (flex cuffs cut down on weight)
  • High-intensity flashlight
  • Cell phone
  • Quality police utility knife
  • "DSM" identify banner
  • Hemostatic agent dressing
  • Combat dressing (Army surplus — Hooah!)
  • Tourniquet
  • Two pair, latex gloves
  • A few adhesive bandages for nicks and scrapes
  • Police radio (if in your jurisdiction)

What else could I carry? The list could go on and on. A few others add these items to their bags:

  • OC Spray
  • Electro-Muscular Disruption (EMD) device
  • More ammo than me!
  • CPR mask
  • Duct tape (handcuff alternative)
  • Multi-tool pliers instead of a utility knife

Tips for your "go bag." Safety and security is the utmost here. Some find it worrisome that their weapon isn't surgically attached to their hip. Many bags have great adjustments in the sling to get the bag in the right position.

Also examine the bag for loops to run your trouser belt through. Some offer additional straps to wrap around the waist for added security. What is important here is to rethink off-duty carry with this system. Normal casual movements with a bag could be awkward, so practice this until you're not uneasy with it.

Then head to the range and practice deploying the weapon from the bag and firing. Also, practice reload and failure drills with the new system. The world we police live in is not for the faint of heart; you must be ready to take the fight to them.

Tags: Concealed Carry, Off-Duty Incidents


Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

KEITH FENNELL @ 2/15/2011 5:32 AM

BILL, I LOVE THAT BAG. IT IS PERFECT FOR COMBAT MEDIC AND HIKERS THAT BELIEVE IN THE RIGHT TO BE ARMED IN OUR NATIONAL PARKS. I AM GETTING ONE FOR MY NEXT TRIP TO CANADA OR PENNSYLVANIA.

Jim @ 2/17/2011 9:30 AM

Alright, I guess I'll be the first to say it. I think the idea of carrying all of the gear suggested in this article while off duty is rediculous. I mean, are you off duty or are you patrolling while not getting paid? I mean, maybe under certain circumstances such as while hiking, as Keith suggests, it would be appropriate, along with all of your typical survival gear for hiking/camping. But if I understand the author, he's suggesting this method and this load of gear when your heading down to Walmart? Gimme a break.

Dean Scoville @ 2/17/2011 11:35 AM

Bill was asked a question, which he addressed. He did not necessarily advocate that cops carry all the time off-duty; he certainly didn't advocate taking off-duty action. But he did make a very good case of what to carry if you are carrying police ID and/or inclined to taking action while out of uniform. I'm sure that cops such as LASD Deputy Shane York wished they'd been carrying such items when they fell victim to off-duty robberies. Bill might "give you a break", but suspects probably won't. And yes, it'd be "rediculous" (sic) to expect otherwise...

Jim @ 2/23/2011 3:41 PM

OK, I read back through the article. And you're right, the author does not explicitly advocate that cops carry off duty or take action off duty. I would assert that the recommendation to carry off duty can be (and most likely is) inferred by most readers simply due to the title and content of the article. But that really wasn't what I was taking issue with.

I do advocate that cops carry off duty and I myself carry off duty. But I think that someone in a position to give advice on this issue has an obligation to make their advice reasonable and realistic. I don’t feel that Bill’s recommendations were either.

I would relate it to the following analogy: If you were going into a gunfight, would you want your pistol or your rifle with you? Of course you would want your rifle. An old firearms instructor friend of mine was fond of saying “The only thing a pistol is good for is to fight your way to a real gun”. Given that a rifle is a superior firearm to a pistol, why do we, as cops, carry sidearms on our belts instead of slinging our rifles around with us everywhere? True, many (hopefully most) departments now issue rifles to patrol officers and the rifles are kept in the squad cars. But do officers grab those rifles before approaching a vehicle in a “typical” traffic stop? Or before they go into the 7-11 to grab a cup of coffee? Or even necessarily before knocking on the door of that domestic disturbance call?

-Continued due to space restrictions-

Jim @ 2/23/2011 3:44 PM

-Continued from previous comment

I’m assuming the answer to all three of those questions is typically, no. And why not? It’s a superior weapon right? It will give you the greatest chances of success in a gun battle right? You’re less likely to need “a break” from that suspect that probably won’t give you one. So why not take it everywhere you go while on duty? Obviously, there are many reasons why not. Some of those reasons are political, i.e. it will “look” bad, the chief doesn’t want you looking so aggressive, etc. And some of those reasons are practical, i.e. the rifle takes up a lot more space, it’s a hassle getting the weapon in and out of the vehicle, it’s just not as convenient. Yep, that’s right, I said it, it’s not as convenient. Sometimes we do make gear selections based on comfort and convenience.

When off duty, I carry a pistol, spare mag, badge and ID. I realize that I may not have everything I need for every situation but I'm confident that I have what I need to defend myself and my loved ones in the vast majority of circumstances. And the bottom line is, I know I will always have those items with me. They are relatively comfortable and convenient to carry.

Am I going to be equipped to intervene in the domestic that takes place in the restaurant parking lot or to apprehend the shoplifter I spot at the mall? Probably not. But I don’t advocate that you get involved in incidents while off duty unless it’s truly a life threatening situation. I carry off duty primarily for the protection and me and mine and if it’s a life or death incident like an active shooter, you can bet I’m going to jump into action. But the idea of carrying enough gear around with you so that you can be Johnny On The Spot and respond to anything you could handle while on duty is simply not realistic (or advisable).

-Continued due to space restrictions-

Jim @ 2/23/2011 3:47 PM

-Continued from previous post-

There are as many articles on the hazards of responding to incidents while off duty as there are articles on what and how to carry off duty, so I won’t bother to go into those reasons right now.

I’ll just stick to my initial and main objection and keep it practical. When I get up in the morning and get ready to go out and run some off duty errands, do I want to bother with lugging around a small, medium or large size backpack loaded down with all the things that I might need to deal with the plethora of criminals, large and small, that I might run into that day? Probably not. Do I want to bother (and yes, it is still a bother to some extent) with grabbing my pistol, mag, badge and ID, so that I’ll have what I need if I encounter that large “Oh $h!t” situation? You bet! And I’m betting that most cops who have been on the street for more than a year will agree with me.

As for Mr. Harveys advice to tote around everything but the kitchen sink, I stand by my initial assessment, I still think it is rediculous (I kept the misspelling just for you Dean).

And now I'm done. :-)

Mark Rich @ 2/24/2011 8:08 AM

Love the bag and the article. Practical in todays society, stealthful, and allows for preparation for real action should you be placed in a position while off duty.

As has been covered in MANY published articles, off duty officers rarely go prepared to properly take action off duty. Jim himself indicates that he himself only carries his gun, his credentials, and a spare mag. This is a clear case of not being properly prepared to act. What if a situation presents itself in his presence and in order to protect himself, his family, and others he is forced to take action and he manages to control and de-escalate the situation without having to use deadly force - with only the tools he is carrying he will be forced to maintain cover with his weapon, while trying to explain to everyone else around that may not know him that he is an off duty cop diverting his attention frequently between the covered bad guy and others (in the event the bad guy didn't travel alone) until uniformed help arrives. What if there are more than one bad guy present ? He would not be able to secure one and cover / scan for another which will further endanger anyone with him or around the situation. What happens if shots are fired and innocents are injured? With this type of carry bag one can carry immediate supplies to buy time until EMS arrives.

I'm sure the author is not suggesting carrying a full fledged SWAT call out bag everywhere you go. As he suggested in the article, gun, spare mags flex cuffs, and a small emergency med kit (generally small, light weight, and containing the important essentials needed to sustain life during the golden hour) and a small flashlight keeps the bag practical and lightweight and allows one to be properly prepared to respond should the need require.

Bill, I love the article, if one is going to carry off duty and take action, it is better to have what you need to function and not need it, than to need it and not have it... Just my

J @ 11/6/2011 7:20 PM

Did anyone else hear a sheep?

Dave @ 10/31/2012 6:37 AM

I have seen officers carry and not carry and have read of many articles and incidents regarding what to do and not do. I personally go somewhere in between. If I carry a gun, which is nearly always, I should always have badge and ID. One aspect of a confrontation which had been taught at a Street Survival Seminar is, OK, now that you have decided to engage the subject, the subject surrenders, what do you do now? Hold them at gunpoint until help shows up? As far as injuries are concerned, Bob Heubner of Quik Clot created a little kit for patrol officers for the Oh C&%$p situation. It is tiny and covers the bare minimum for survival. The only other item that wasn't mentioned which mostly all people carry today is a cellphone and an extra battery or portable power source. Everyone should consider the what if question.

TR Black @ 10/31/2012 1:08 PM

I'm retired now, but I still carry every day (all items mentioned plus a quality small flashlight). I have a go bag that goes with me and a bail out bag. Both have all the items mentioned. Plus I also have a patrol rifle that travels with me . All that being said, Everything stays in my vehicle securied in a locked box except my go bag. It is a pain to have all that gear. And not cheap. I learned the hard way being overseas that it IS better to have than to need. One item I also have is a light weight vest with POLICE one both sides. I see both sides of this. It's a personel choice. No right or wrong way as long as one carries to protect thoes he cares for. Stay safe out there.

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