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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.
Careers

Off-Duty Behavior

While off duty, watch your attire and associations. Avoid any hint of impropriety.

January 03, 2013  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of William Harvey.
Photo courtesy of William Harvey.

"You are what you are," I had one of my trusted commanders tell me the other day. He was speaking about a young officer who was unable to grasp the concept that how he conducts himself off duty can subject him to departmental sanctions.

How you are viewed by others may be different than how you see yourself. Once you become a police officer or deputy, the world changes its view of you. I know you're the same man or woman that you were before you poked your hand up and took the oath, but there are some realities we need to discuss.

As much as we want the world to love cops, we should understand that they also love to hate us. For instance, I read a news story about a former cop who was arrested for a heinous crime. This guy has not been a cop in years, his career (using that term loosely) was only a few months.

The media—because bad cop stories sell—and some members of the public relish in revealing the few bad eggs in our ranks. If one cop is bad then we are all bad, according to some haters. Headline readers will view the headline as all cops are bad. We hope they read the entire article. Because of this phenomenon, we must protect our vocation by protecting ourselves first. If your integrity is intact, then there will be no problems.

First, new officers need to watch what they wear and how they act while off duty. I used to go to a food court in a local mall for lunch; it was down the street from a regional police academy. During lunch, I could play the off-duty-cop-or-not game.

Stop and look at yourself. If you don't want to be identified or bothered while off duty, check your wardrobe. You do have the freedom to don whatever apparel you wish, but give it a rethink if you enjoy your privacy. Avoid tactical boots or running shoes, jeans, and T-shirts that read "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" while covering a prominent gun bulge.

Are your hip pockets bulging with a wallet in one and badge wallet in the other? Do you wear a tactical knife clipped in the pants pocket ready to spring out at a moment's notice? What about a baseball cap with the tactically crushed visor? Did I mention sunglasses—the wrap-around tactical ones that you can wear inside a building?

If you're dressed like this in public and you drop a few ugly word bombs or exclaim anything slightly inappropriate for the delicate ears around you to hear, there will be a complaint coming for the offended citizen will call the local police. If you're in a group of cops, you should designate a "cop buddy" to act as the handler or wing. When one gets out of line, they handle the decorum to keep all out of the fray.

Who you hang around with while off duty is another question. I know it's your time. Stop and look at your neighborhood or school pals with your cop eyes. Everyone knows at least one convicted felon (heck, they could be a family member) but hanging out with them may be a policy violation. What if one of your old chums is now in a gang? Stop and think where their allegiances are now? Do they respect you for the good old days of playing ball together or are their new pals the ones who don't like cops.

You could be a set up for them to gain intelligence about gang-enforcement tactics. Always remember operational security. Be especially aware while attending public events. Recall that everyone now has a cell phone with a built-in camera. The off-duty cop seen at a motorcycle rally standing next to Outlaw Motorcycle Gang members (OMGs) will be found guilty of association. Just be careful.

Does this really matter? If you are in a large metropolitan department where you are one of hundreds or thousands of officers, it could go undetected. In the small- or medium-size departments where political views, public scrutiny and operational integrity come to play, it's a reality of life. Are you giving up your liberties, freedoms, or private life pursuits because you carry a shield? Yes. Is it fair? Nope. I was told years ago, there is nothing fair in Policeland. Fair is where you take your kids in September to see the animals.

My goal here is to protect your career for a slight slip that can be a career ender for you and tarnish the careers around you. You worked far too hard to earn your shield. Don't let one lapse ruin it.

Related:

Avoid Being Identified As A Cop

Recognize Your Real Friends

Tags: Off-Duty Life, Professional Image, Thin Blue Line


Comments (15)

Displaying 1 - 15 of 15

Dr. Jeffrey P @ 1/3/2013 9:07 AM

Nicely said Chief, nicely said. Unfortunately we don't teach this much in the academy, along with failing to teach how to react to stuff off duty.

The other side of this, however is that many people carry knives, wear 511s, etc. and they're not cops.

Overall though we need to spend more time understanding the reality of our profession, of the brotherhood we join of the honor and integrity and loyalty it engenders.

John Eller @ 1/10/2013 10:44 AM

Bill,
Good article and right on target. I just retired after 44 years, 39 of them as Chief of two small departments. Having taught for 30 years at a police academy gives some insight as to future police officers. As you know in PA, students can attend a police academy at a community college without being a police officer. After receiving over 750 hours of training some of them never get jobs in law enforcement.

Dennis, CHP (retired) @ 1/10/2013 8:19 PM

Excellent article, Chief. Although off duty conduct was addressed when I began my career in 1977, and sitting in on a class last month (I continue on with my career as a training consultant), certain off duty behaviors continue are discussed. There are a few items you discussed that I haven't discussed with instructors, and I plan to bring them up at the next academy. Take care and I wish you the best!

FireCop @ 1/11/2013 4:47 AM

The current generation doesn't care in most cases so this may be falling on many deaf ears. What you are is what you are, on duty and off duty. How you dress and act is important, on duty and off duty. Be professional always, dress professionally on duty and dress like a civilian off duty especially when out in the public with family members. And as I had to do, distance yourself from a friend or family member who ends up deep on the wrong side of the law. And always be aware of your surroundings, always. Good article.

S.S @ 1/11/2013 6:41 AM

So very true. I became a police officer at 23 and it's so true that people that you once called "friends" now treat you different, and the things that you use to do you need to be more careful when your doing them. Your conduct especially. You must be on your best behavior at all times when out in public. It's a small world.

Joseph B Haggerty Sr @ 1/11/2013 6:47 AM

As a vice cop it was my job not to look like a cop, but once I made an arrest or was conducting an official interview, inquiry, executing a warrant or sitting in court my demeanor was strictly professional. One must not lose sight of the responsibility and professionalism of being a police officer even when talking with your fellow officers on or off the job. Stay away from people socially that don't respect your job and officers that don't respect the job. Lead by example. You may not be as popular as you'd like, but you will be respected. Your peers know who they can depend on for getting the job done.

DanB @ 1/11/2013 7:09 AM

Very Good article! Firecop, you're right on target. The new generation (some call it the Entitlement Generation) tends to have more souls that believe because they took the oath and do what they do, they can relax and let their hair down however they want and Command just should stay out of their off-duty lives. They don't get the whole "living in a fishbowl" idea. A sad commentary on some of our young officers.

Dan @ 1/13/2013 9:00 AM

This is force fed morality BS. As long as we are not breaking the law, stay out of my personal life. My off time is my time. Cops take an oath but we are still people. The chief creating a morality code based on his 1950's beliefs is unfair. The Aspen Police Chief said it best, "I'm not the morality police."

David E. Glenn @ 1/14/2013 6:12 AM

This article is on point and what it really boils down to is the legacy you leave behind based on how you represent yourself after you accepted the oath of office. If one thinks they can do whatever they want on their off duty time and continue the same behaviors they did before being sworn that may not reflect well on the profession or their agency, I guarantee their employment will be very short lived. I saw this played out many times throughout my 25 year law engorcement career.

Carlson1038 @ 1/14/2013 8:24 AM

Dan,
I think you missed the point of this article. The Chief's point is that we need to educate younger officers about off duty conduct to keep them out of trouble in the modern world. The "Off Duty Tactical" look(tan 511s, black polo shirt and boots) is a little ridiculous unless you are attending training.

Jelly @ 1/17/2013 5:52 AM

Dan, with an attitude like that, you will have a long hard career ahead of you....................

tedb @ 1/30/2013 1:36 PM

Dan: Good luck in your next job, whatever it is.

Not that Dan @ 1/31/2013 10:38 AM

I read the post above by Dan. I'm Dan too and comment here from time to time. Actually the Chief can set and request compliance with community standards for his Officers. I suspect the herd around this youngster will thin when the lions approach. Spot on tedb. unfortunately, all departments have troublemakers who are in the wrong career field.

Todd @ 1/31/2013 6:40 PM

Great article. I can relate to the Chief's lunch time assessment at the mall. It takes me all of about 5 minutes to spot LEO's in public. Certainly many of our actions are attributed to the "nature of the beast" if you will. We scan the crowd and our surroundings often times without even realizing it. But we don't need to add affirmation by doing some of things as the Chief described. Another give away, a tactical style watch set on military time. Although the public might be oblivious, truth of the matter, criminals often spot this behavior quickly. They have a lot of time to share war stories and talk shop while incarcerated. As a LEO we should never underestimate who's watching and their intentions. . It might not be another LEO. Work smarter, not harder. Thanks Chief.

Kevin @ 3/16/2013 7:44 PM

Really? Blue jeans and running shoes give us away as cops off duty? Strangely enough, jeans that aren't 10 sizes too big and a mid priced running shoe are the very same items of clothing that undercover cops in drug units wear nationwide day in and day out. The gun off duty gives us away. The bigger question is do we carry or not to carry off duty. That bulge on your hip really alerts the bad guys that you are an off duty copper. Many agencies like my own have policy on what you can carry off duty. In a sense we are less protected by restrictions on the minium size of caliber that we can carry than a citizen with a concealed carry permit who in our state can carry pretty much whatever they want. Concealment of our weapon is the key to not being detected off duty. Cargo pants and shorts are worn by everyone these days and can conceal the essestials. To go beyond our homes without a department accepted firearm, handcuffs, the badge (preferably on a neckchain and easily accessible), identification (slim holder) and a cell phone are a must no matter where you are in this country. Forget fanny packs, ankle holsters and shoulder rigs. Find an inside the pant holster that is functional. In 19 years of law enforcement, I have found in our area of rising crime very few cops carry off duty or say, "It's in my car." It seems the more time a guy has on his agency the less likely he is to carry anything other than a smartphone. The belief is nothing has ever happened before. I'll take my chances. I'm fat and a gun inside my pants in uncomfortable. I'd rather be a bystander or a good witness. Sounds like the metaphorical sheep. Will just a cellphone call to 911 save your life when a pack of thugs kidnap your wife and kids in front of you after leaving you for dead? Over the top am I? Maybe. This job, this career is easy if you have the backing of your administration. Keep a low p

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