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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Off-Duty Gang Confrontations

Take steps to avoid self-identifying yourself as a cop while off duty. And plan so you'll be ready if trouble finds you.

February 17, 2012  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Photo: Richard Valdemar
Photo: Richard Valdemar

Gang members remember an officer who has had significant contacts with the gang. As an officer specifically assigned to gangs, you will be especially remembered. Eventually, while off-duty, you'll run into a gang banger who recognizes you. Will you be prepared when this happens?

The first thing I learned working gangs in Compton as a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy was that our issued Smith & Wesson Model 15, four-inch .38 revolver was not enough. Those who figured this out ordered stainless Smith & Wesson Model 66 six-inch .357 Magnum revolvers and an additional Model 60 five-shot back-up gun. The larger, six-inch-barreled shiny guns definitely got the attention of the gang members, but the change was more for function than form. Since we came into contact with multiple gang members in their natural habitat daily, 11 hot hollow points was better than six.

We also beefed up the issued Ithaca Model 37 12-gauge shotgun by carrying a reserve of rifled slugs and Ferret teargas rounds. Unlike LAPD, the sheriff's deputies were authorized to use these rounds with a nod from the sergeant. Although the patrol rifles were usually locked in the station armory, rendering them all but useless, we qualified and became familiar with the AR-15.

One of the best ways to prevent off-duty confrontations with gang members is to not identify yourself as a target. Don't tape a bull's eye on your back. It was common in my department to display a small police decal on the rear of your personal vehicle. Sometimes deputies would buy license-plate holders marked with the LASD radio call letters of KMA 628. This was also common on the private vehicles of LAPD and California Highway Patrol with their radio call letters. I think this was a method of avoiding traffic tickets. However, gang members have learned to recognize these off-duty cop identifiers. And remember you're not the only one who rides in that car; don't turn your family ride into a bullet magnet.

Here's another illogical cop phenomenon I can't explain. Police officers often work many years in uniform assignments with the goal of obtaining a highly desirable plainclothes or undercover assignment. Yet while these same officers were off duty, they routinely wore police-identifying clothing.

This phenomenon is most observable on the East Coast in and around the D.C. beltway, especially among off-duty federal officers. Unfortunately, this trend seems to be spreading across the nation. This off-duty "uniform" is khaki cargo pants, a dark colored or black golf shirt (complete with some cop logo), and a semi-auto pistol in a Kydex holster exposed on a belt. I call this the "shoot me first" off-duty uniform.

Smart gang members learn to spot undercover and off-duty police officers in public places. So why help them with their target acquisition by standing out in the crowd at the hamburger stand, in a restaurant, or in the mall?

The opposite extreme of this phenomenon is those cops who try to look like gangsters. They dress like outlaw bikers, hip hop rappers, skinheads, or tattooed cholos. This would also draw the attention of gang members and mark them as priority targets.

Off-duty dress should help you blend in with the average citizen, not make you stand out. Concealed carry means that your weapon should not be exposed. Conceal it, if you want the life-saving element of surprise.

Preparing for an off-duty confrontation with multiple gang members while you're alone, without a radio, ballistic vest or foreseeable back-up is a serious matter. Here's how we old gang dinosaurs got ready, or should I say "stayed ready." The LASD OSS gang deputies were some of the first officers to go to the large capacity 9mm semi-autos with the S&W Model 59. My back-up and off-duty weapon became a 12-shot S&W Model 469 9mm with a 20-round spare magazine (33 rounds).

Thinking and acting in a tactical way is not a natural inclination; it must be learned and practiced. It must become part of your on- and off-duty habit. Don't expect this to be easy or well accepted by others. Carry your off-duty weapon everywhere. Carry a knife, and have a flashlight and handcuffs handy. Prepare and rehearse scenarios like bad guys showing up at your family's front door. This happened to me.

Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

lawvictoria @ 2/20/2012 1:11 PM

Good advice.

Pup @ 2/21/2012 8:24 AM

Being a rookie on the department, I worked with Richard learning about gangs and survival. He's the master of gangs. It was kewl he brought back the old memories of the weapons we carried. Great article and take what Richard says seriously.....Be safe and God Bless..

Bullet50 @ 2/21/2012 12:40 PM

Great information Rich! Off-duty tactical clothing is not very tactical. The look has a big marketing push by companies like 5.11. Officers who are serious about their safety off-duty; do not need that Khaki Range look. It has its place at the academy or range. Officers should always be aware of their surroundings and utilize clothing that is discrete and allows them to carry conceal a handgun and a spear mag. I wear bullet50 clothing which is designed for true U C operators.

DaveSAM25G @ 2/21/2012 7:40 PM

Well said!! Solid advice here again Rich...and it's not just clothing but how you carry yourself also...I remember post a Keep Me Advised (KMA) item in blog once and got accussed of telling someone Kiss my Axx...I had to expain that too!

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 2/22/2012 6:11 PM

Author is the expert. Heard about him when I was at Administration. Also read good story

rob @ 2/23/2012 5:43 AM

Early on in my career when I still wore a uniform, I got made twice off duty. I was always religious about having a pistol on me, so I was ready; but neither situation escalated. Both times, however, it was not me who noticed I was drawing attention, but people with me. Jeff Cooper's color codes should be as much of a habit as carrying the off duty gun. I've worked in street clothes for the past 16 years and this article got me thinking that I need to raise the awareness level of my fellow plain clothes co-workers as we're going to be seen in the same clothes off duty.

Trigger @ 2/23/2012 12:07 PM

After over 33 years in the profession mostly working the streets I still do not understand the mentality of many, many new officers and some senior officers who wear their "shoot me clothes" off duty. I have been made off duty several times by some of the dirtbags I have arrested just because they recognized my ugly mugg. Gang members have no sense of humor especially when morer that one are traveling together.

Anthony Manzella @ 2/24/2012 6:27 PM

Great article and great advice, Richard. You taught me that a long time ago and I've followed your advice ever since then.

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