Before you are faced with any of these difficult situations, ask yourself, What would I do if…I'm off duty and I see a crime in progress? …someone tries to rob me on the street or carjack me? …my family is with me when that happens? …someone tries to break into my home? …someone instigates a dispute or a fight with me?
If a family member is present, you may not want—or may not be able—to respond to a situation as you would if you were alone. In any event, you don't want loved ones to become liabilities. Tell family members and friends, especially kids, that if they're out with you and something happens, they shouldn't tell anyone you're a police officer, you have a gun, or worse yet, turn to you and say, "Do something!"
Visualize a variety of specific situations and think through your possible responses. It's easy to say, "If someone pulls a gun on me, I'd pull my gun and shoot him." But suppose you find yourself looking down the muzzle of a robber's gun at close range while your own gun is still holstered. How would you pull your gun out without getting shot? You may have to distract the robber by talking to him or handing over your valuables (or appearing to hand them over). You may have to gain physical control of his weapon, move the muzzle away from you, or try to move out of the line of fire.
You may even decide that the most prudent action, if all the attacker wants are material possessions, is to pretend to submit to the attacker, give him what he wants, and wait for an opening to act. As firearms trainer Greg Hamilton says, it's OK if they get away while you're pretending to submit. Don't feel that you have to get yourself killed in some hopeless attempt to act. Each situation is different, and each requires that you make a judgment call. Only you can decide what makes sense.
It is important to note that you should identify yourself before taking action off duty, but only if you can safely do so. Of course, you need to understand applicable laws and agency regulations regarding self-identification while off duty.
If you're in a store, bar, or bank that is being robbed and the robbers simply want to take money from the cash register or teller, it's usually safer for you and everyone else to let them. Commercial robbers often have hidden accomplices posing as customers whose job is to shoot anyone who intervenes or tries to call police. But you may have to act if the robbers are obviously about to murder someone, realize that you are a law enforcement officer, start searching customers, or herd customers into a back room.
If they start putting customers on the floor, you may choose to go prone and wait, unless you sense from reading their faces, their voices, their body language, what they say, and what they do, that you won't be getting up alive. If you know the robbers' reputation for violence (e.g., they fit the description of execution robbers), you'd obviously consider that, as well.