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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: What Kind of Cop Are You?

Which of these three categories do you fall into when it comes to off-duty carry?

March 07, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author


Would you carry if you visited Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York City, while you were off duty? Photo via Flickr.com (moriza).

Where and when to carry off-duty is a debate between cops that has gone back and forth for generations. I know what I've done and will continue to do. Let's review the three kinds of cops so you can pick the category that suits you best.

"I'm a cop for eight hours."

How many of you know a cop that proclaims this and lives this way? They don't even own a gun; the issued sidearm stays in the locker when not on-duty. They don't get emotionally involved, and this is a paycheck to them. Known many of these through the years. Many are good producers and will do what they have to do to keep the job and stay in their comfort zones. Some even say, "If they want me to walk around ready to respond, they will pay me for it." Nothing wrong here but this is a measure on one end of the spectrum.

Hot-and-cold cops

Sometimes they carry off-duty, and sometimes they don't. They carry off-duty when they feel there's a higher threat level. This may fit the mold of many officers. At a family cookout or local event, there's no need to carry. If they're just running errands around the town or doing some shopping, no need to pack heat, right? If they're that good at predicting criminal events, they should be working in the intelligence office rather than on patrol. Many will do the right thing; there will be that one time they'll be unable to respond. They will have to live with themselves and the personal aftermath.

Warrior cops who carry off-duty

If you pick up a writer's slant, you'll guess the category I fall into. For my entire career, I've carried off-duty the vast majority of the time (exceptions include the gym, beach, and jogging). I've intervened on bad guys while off-duty and backed up other officers.

This is a force multiplier for the area you live in. Face it, most people know you're a cop. Many of you have had people come up to you for questions or support while you were shopping. Here you can assist and protect your family or others if the need arises. I've never said to go out on patrol, nor seek trouble while off duty. You should make a prudent decision, if you're outnumbered or face overwhelming odds, to be a professional witness. You can always step in and be the protector.

Another point of debate is for those officers that plaster their cars with thin blue-line stickers, cop bumper stickers, and other law enforcement stuff. They wear cop T-shirts as off-duty attire. If you advertise you're a cop, prepare to be one at a moment's notice. Especially, if your loved ones are there, could you protect them?

I get criticism from some for advocating this position. So be it. I know I carry this vocation as an honor. To walk as a warrior calls for the tools and mindset. So when you see me with my shoulder pack, it's not a diaper bag. Know I have your back.

Tags: Off-Duty Incidents, Concealed Carry


Comments (29)

Displaying 1 - 29 of 29

Richard @ 3/8/2011 3:11 PM

Absolutely right, brother. If I'm wearing pants, I'm carrying a gun (or two). I've had to protect my family off duty. I will never be in the position of having to think "If only I had my gun…"

Jim Eggert @ 3/8/2011 4:34 PM

Good article Chief. I have always been the hot/cpld carry but have become better about it. I just wish we could get everyone else on the same page and out of this "it don't happen here" attitude.

Tom Reilly @ 3/8/2011 4:49 PM

Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York City, been there both on duty, off duty, retired, yes each and every time I have carried. I guess I am a Warrior Cop, since I retired, after 30 years, I am now a Gray Beard Warrior, I still answer the call to defeat the bad guy and help my Brother and Sister Officers.

Robbie @ 3/8/2011 6:37 PM

Good article Chief. However; your statements don't match. Crime doesn't happen on the beach or while you are jogging? No-one can carry 24/7, even through we'd all like to it is impossible. I hope every Police Officer is always ready to respond situations or assistance as needed. Very rarely do I EVER have to draw or us my weapon. I am a hot/cold by your definition, but I consider myself a great Police Officer and will assist weather armed or not. A weapon will never make the man/woman "to be politically correct" it takes much more. Still nice article.

GREGORY @ 3/8/2011 7:34 PM

IM A COP 24HR A DAY , NEVER EIGHT HOURS, CRIME IS SOMETHING THAT CAN HAPPEN ANYTIME OF THE DAY OR ANYWHERE SO BEWARE AND PROTECTED AT ALL TIME. NEVER LET UR GUARDS DOWNS AND BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDING LIKE U WERE ON PATROL, YOU ONLY HAVE ON LIFE.

D. N. Barsness @ 3/8/2011 7:43 PM

I concure with Chief Harvey. I just retired as a lieutenant after 42 years with Minneapolis PD. I carried in your city chief since my son went to SCAD where he graduated last May.

I have twice run into someone I put in prision--one for murder and had a verbal confortation in a casino with that party when he recognized me.

If you don't carry you don't have options.

It's a no brainer to me.

Scott @ 3/8/2011 7:56 PM

I respectfully disagree with you Robbie. One can be armed 24/7. I have prepared myself and trained fellow officrs to mentally put themselves into a deadly force situation off duty and winning the encounter. I train them to kill and I pray daily that we avoid such an encounter but we must be prepared. I choose to carry off duty, while riding my bike and jogging. I choose to carry when I am in church and when I am with family at a friends house or dinner in a fancy resturaunt or an NFL game. When I am on vacation and when I am mowing the lawn. The reason? In each instance I have mentioned, I have either encountered someone or a fellow officer has had a situation where they have encountered someone they have either arrested or who were mentally unstable and having an episode while being off duty. We have all read of intel reports where gang members are targeting police officers in their own homes. My question is, why not sit the Glock 23 next to your seat while vegging infront of the tube? With the lack of morals and self restraint with people these days, to not carry a firearm only invites a situation where you are forced to rely on the mercy of someone who is without mercy. Choose this day to survive. I have resigned myself to my last dying breath to never die laying down nor will my family if I am able to stop it. One thing is for sure, I will do everything on my power to live and go home with my family. I can always deal with the aftermath later.

Retired Chief @ 3/8/2011 8:12 PM

Call me old school but 43 years ago when I became an L A County Sheriff's Deputy it was impressed on me that as long as I remained physically and mentally capable of functioning as a cop (even after retirement) I was obliged to do so if for no other reason than to back up other cops. To this day I carry 100% of the time when I am off my own property. We not only have the right but the duty and with that the responsibility to remain proficient.

30 Years On the Job @ 3/8/2011 10:56 PM

I guess I have to put myself into the "hot and cold" category. In Ohio, you are not empowered to make misdemeanor arrests outside of your jurisdiction, so if you are carrying off duty, you are basically doing so just as any "civilian" with a CCW permit may do. While I support any officer who identifies a need to carry at all times, I have never encountered a need to have my weapon off duty in the area where I live. Since I work for a smaller agency, I would hesitate to jump in to back-up an officer from another agency that would not recognize me, for fear that the officer may consier me as an armed threat. It is also a hassle when someone notices you are armed and contacts the local police to have you checked out as a potential threat. So, for me, I carry off-duty when I have that nagging feeling that I need to, but most of the time I leave my weapons locked up at home.

Michael @ 3/9/2011 1:19 AM

Well, I think you should carry if you are comfortable doing it. I am Retired and my PD didn't want to give me a ccw or even my retired ID card. I told them that they were required to but since we just finished our court case, I didn't want to go through it again. I did get my ID card after a small fight but they still didn't do the ccw. However,I told them that I was still going to carry. They smiled at me........it's another game they want to play. The way I look at it, if the shit hits the fan and I need to protect myself or my family, help another LEO, or save someones life.....well...... they can beat me up later after it's over with. In all my years I never asked a Retired Cop do you have a ccw. If I had my ccw the PD would find another reason to take it. They would make up shit to make it too difficult to comply with their rules, like.............
"you have not qualified ", "we didn't approve that weapon","we don't like that ammo you are using"....etc. So I carry sometimes just as I have for many years before, I guess I would be a "hot and cold cop" if I had to pick one that fits me.. I always have my ID/Badge if I get stopped. I have never had a problem at all. I'm not a scumbag, but I sure have worked for some. How much time and effort do you put in something like this......too much time, to much stress, to much money and to much wear on your marriage. So, I say screw it life is too short.
Good article......makes us all think.

Terry @ 3/9/2011 4:20 AM

I ran a short errand last week and did not carry my off-duty pistol. I felt nude and had a voice in my head saying, "this will be the one time you will need it". Then two days ago I was at my mothers house doing some work and she saw my pistol. She asked why and I simply said "just in case mom". She asked if I carried my hand cuffs, I told her that "its not in case someone needs arresting mom, its in case I HAVE to protect myself, my wife, your grand kids or even you mom". I don't look for trouble while off duty but I recall an FBI study from some years back that showed most active shooter incidents are ended by lawfully armed citizens(thats us off duty) or when the suspect kills himself. I AM prepared to use that level of force to protect myself while on duty, I AM prepared to unleash ALL of the fury and violence necessary to defend my family at anytime!

If you're wondering, its a 1911 and I do carry an extra magazine with it.

charles R. Elliott @ 3/9/2011 5:29 AM

I carried 24/7 for 44 years and now that I am retired I carry 24/7.

Frank @ 3/9/2011 5:37 AM

Always have and always will carry off duty, even going for a jog, to the beach or riding a bike. Where there's a will there's a way. I too work with too many co-workers who don't and am constantly trying to convince them to. I have never had the need in 29 years to use it off duty but better to have and not need then to need and not have.

Karl @ 3/9/2011 5:52 AM

I carry off duty for my safety and that of my family. If the time comes to intervene, it will probably be as a professional witness. If I have to take more immediate action that to protect someone's life, I am ready. I also do not advertise on my car or person who I am or that I carry. When I am off duty, I am "off duty", but not nieve to the fact that crime can happen amywhere and at any time!

Craig Brockman @ 3/9/2011 6:23 AM

I am retired - I carry all the time. Either a Glock 26 on my hip, or a Ruger LCP in my pocket. As for WSP - being a NYPD retired officer, I suggest any time near that area, especially in the evening hours - CARRY!

John Frank @ 3/9/2011 6:48 AM

This article makes a valid point. No one can predict the bad elements in your everyday surroundings. Like accidents they happen unexpectedly. Be prepared for the always no matter where you might be even jogging. Fellow officer was jogging in his own neighborhood when he heard cries for help. He stumbled into the aftermath of a home invasion, he took pursuit of one suspect. After a long foot case he found himself in a physical altercation with only his badge. The suspect was packing some burglary tools one of which he used as a weapon. the off duty officer suffered several injuries including a broken wrist. Subject was subdued with the aid of another citizen. If the off duty officer had his duty weapon the entire situation would have been different. Most likely less resistance and no injuries.

Det.Sgt. M.C. Williams @ 3/9/2011 7:31 AM

Excellent article Chief and I'm firmly in your catagory. In addition to being a full-time officer, I also lead a ministry for LEOs and strongly encourage my warriors to be just that -- the sheepdogs and shepherds God called us to be (Romans 13:1-7). If you fail to understand that what we do is a calling and not tied to a set number of hours, then please seek another line of work. Don't misunderstand me -- priorities should be God, family, then the job. That said, carry the life-saving tools necessary to protect yourself, your loved ones and those we are have sworn to serve/protect (and train to be proficient with those life-saving tools). Lastly (and respectfully), "thirty years on the job" makes a comment that is "Mayberry-esque" at best: he writes, "I have never encountered a need to have my weapon off duty in the area where I live." If that is the standard we are to follow, then the vast majority of can disarm and become sheep! None of us "need" our weapons UNTIL we need them! We must be ready ALL the time and pray that the "need" never arises whilst being ever-prepared to act. Wonder what the slain chief in little Ranier, OR would say to that logic.

Stay the course.

Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams

Chaplain/Director, www.TheCenturionLawEnforcementMinistry.org

Louis @ 3/9/2011 7:38 AM

I am a "Hot and Cold Cop" based on the standards provided in this article and ironically, so is the author. I appreciate the author's effort but it is somewhat hypocritical, in my opinion, because HE does not always carry 24/7. He does not carry at the gym, at the beach and while jogging. Is there no crime at these locations? Written about others that do not always carry off-duty: “If they're that good at predicting criminal events, they should be working in the intelligence office rather than on patrol. Many will do the right thing; there will be that one time they'll be unable to respond. They will have to live with themselves and the personal aftermath.” HIS exceptions are acceptable to him and therefore he has declared himself a “Warrior Cop” and belittled other Officers. This article easily could have been written in a sense to simply urge more Officers to carry off-duty to be able to assist with emergencies/crimes that occur in their immediate area and to back-up fellow Officers. Instead it divides Officers into categories and seems to attempt to define their worth based on his standards, which he does not even meet. I thank ALL of my fellow Officers for their service to the community, be it service for 8 hours a day or 24.

Michael @ 3/9/2011 10:49 AM

Nobody can carry 24/7. The water from your shower would surely rust your gun sooner or later. That said, I carry as often as I can. This is pretty much anytime I leave the house. And I always have RELOADS available. Now where I'm going will determine what I'm carrying. Dropping the kids off at school, running to the market, ("safe" activities): S&W J-frame 340PD with multiple speed loaders and/or speed strips. Going outside my 'one of the top ten safest cities in the U.S.': Sig 229 and S&W J-frame 340PD. As one of the 'sheep dogs' in society, I would have a hard time dealing with seeing a wolf's attack on a sheep go un-repelled by me because, 'if I had only....' As far as someone seeing you carrying and calling the local PD/SO, get better at concealing it. It's really not that hard with some thought. The doo-doo can hit the fan anywhere, anytime and always with out warning. If it gave a warning that would be great, I'd have my Remington 870 then!

Chuck @ 3/9/2011 2:05 PM

I have to disagree with a few points made, mainly in the comments.

I was almost involved in an off-duty shooting one night while walking the beach on the Gulf, almost because I had the ability to respond with gunfire so the three guy wanting to pull a robbery that night decided it was in their best interest to be elsewhere in a hurry.

Had I not been armed that would have been a whole different incident.

I have a gun while I jog, not only because I have seen criminal activity while doing so, not only because I know most of the bad guys in my town after 24 years on the job with 18 in SWAT, but also becasue getting caught jogging while unamred by a loose pitbull just plains sucks.

John @ 3/9/2011 3:15 PM

Been type 3 for 32 years.

Frank @ 3/10/2011 7:53 AM

If your a smart cop you'll be carrying all the time! Reading a daily newapaper or watching the nightly news is enough. We have too many overwheming groups of people who would not waste a second preying on your family. Its not the 60's anymore where the Mob, a few biker gangs and the hippies were your problem.

erick @ 3/10/2011 10:15 PM

i am a correctional officer, ive worked a couple hard core prisons, more than a few times ive run into convicts, ive personally worked with,stripped search, fed, cuffed up and put in the hole,by the grace of God every time i was approached it was under good terms,but if it were not, i was carrying, ive talked and prayed with my wife and pastor and God, and if it ever comes to protecting family or innocents i will not hesitate, good article pray hard be safe cherish your family time

mini28 @ 3/17/2011 10:18 PM

I retired with a LOD injury. I still run into life's ugly reminders of my past occupation. I miss the job. I still carry everywhere I go. Just for the reason I've stated. I don't go looking for the miscreants, I try to avoid them. I'm not in a position to physically defend myself like I was a few years ago. I'd rather had my weapon and not need it than to need it and not have it. My family and immediate friends know that if it came to defending them or myself that I would if need be. If any of my brothers and sisters in blue needed me, I would do my best to help them. It's always in your blood. For all of my brothers and sisters out there. Be Safe.

Tim @ 2/28/2012 9:20 PM

Great article and I agree with you. A day does not go by when I am not carrying, on or off duty. Personally, I consider myself always on duty because I not only have my family to take care of I also have my neighberhood.

DM @ 9/11/2012 8:14 PM

What do you do though when your department policy is ambiguous about whether or not you are allowed to carry off duty? If you have asked various members and they all have varying answers and you don't know whether you can legally carry off duty or not?

kevin @ 2/10/2013 10:31 AM

Back in June of 2009 while on a staycation I was contacted by an outside agency to locate possible criminal subjects at their LEO's home in the town where I live. Off duty, I found their perp but was told to stand down. I picked up my daughter, 8, on her last day of school before summer break. We ran a few errands. At our last stop (a grocery store) while in the cash register line we ran into that perp and his associates. My daughter was my first concern. After she was safe it got physical. But I was armed with my duty weapon as well as cuffs and a cell phone. A simple 911 call and the brothers of law enforcement were there in seconds. I was about to use lethal force on the subjects, but when they observed I was carrying (they were not) the situation immediately de escalated. If I had not been carrying, would they have drug my little girl out of the store and left me on the floor beaten to a pulp? It was summer. It was hot. I was in shorts. I had a baggy cover shirt. They had no idea I was carrying. After doing two years in prison the perp knows that I carry at all times. He is out and back in our community. He regrets our confrontation and has advised other LEOs he is blessed that I did not shoot him.

James 253 @ 4/3/2013 10:06 PM

Well I am in between "Hot and cold" and "Warrior" I do generally (80% of the time) have a weapon with me (100% of the time in my vehicle). But I also carry a pair of handcuffs and my badge on the weapon in my vehicle. Really as tools of the trade go, how often do you shoot a suspect? I draw my service weapon as much as anyone on duty, but have still never needed to draw it off duty. Anyhow, I think that it is a personal choice and that no one should feel obligated to carry 24/7, life is short and enjoying your time off with family makes it worth protecting the sheep when it is your shift.

Morris @ 3/29/2014 7:41 PM

Louis, calm down brother. On the beach, in the gym, and while jogging present special problems in concealment, which is still mandatory. Swim trunks, gym clothes, and a joggling body make concealment and retention really fun. And anyone who can consistetly predict when "bad things" will happen IS wasted in patrol. No special exceptions and one was belittled. The categories served to outline general carry modes for sake of discussion. As a firearms instructor I constantly preach off duty carry but it is ultimately in individual choice. I choose the path that does not leave me without an untimate defense, God help me, IF NEEDED.

Lastly, the article was written to encourage off duty carry or at least giving it a good rethink. A cop may see dozens of faces a week. You're one of handful of coppers the bad guys have ever met, they remember you, and love you not at all. It may be just the Badge, not you.
Scout motto, "be prepared". My motto, "Murphy was an optimist".

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