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.
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.