Criminals are criminals 24/7. You, on the other hand, work an eight-, 10-, or 12-hour shift and are then "off duty." The problem is that criminals don't see it that way. In their minds, it doesn't matter if you're driving a marked patrol unit on an urban beat or the wife's mini-van taking the kids to soccer practice. You're the enemy.
If for no other reason than the protection of yourself and your loved ones, you need to practice off-duty firearms tactics. And it's in your agency's best interests to provide you with the necessary skills.
Why It's Worth It
In these tough economic times it's difficult enough to get funding for normal firearms training, let alone additional firearms training for off-duty situations. But let me give you one reason why you should do it, and it's something your administrators can sink their teeth into-liability.
If agencies allow or, in some cases, mandate officers to carry weapons off duty, they need to give them off-duty firearms skills. And it's not enough for officers to shoot or qualify with their off-duty weapons. Most departments require that you come to the range with any off-duty firearm you carry and fire the same qualification course used for your duty gun. This is the bare minimum and does not prepare you for off-duty confrontations on the street, and therefore opens your agency up to liability for failure to train.
One other reason to train in off-duty firearms skills, which is just as important as protecting yourself and your family, is the potential for off-duty officers to be mistakenly identified as bad guys by on-duty officers. This has resulted in off-duty officers being shot and, unfortunately, sometimes killed by the on-duty responding officers. The state of New York recently conducted a study and determined that race played a major role in the off-duty officers being mistakenly identified. I strongly disagree. In my opinion, the off-duty officers' actions, or inappropriate actions, were what caused or led up to the majority of these incidents.
Not to point fingers at our fallen brother and sister officers, but if we're not willing to take a hard look at the facts of the situation, then we'll never learn from the mistakes that were made and we'll end up repeating them. We don't have expensive laboratories or wind tunnels to conduct our experiments in. We learn from and on the street, and sometimes we pay for that knowledge in blood. It's unfortunate, but it's the truth.
Teaching Basic Skills
If we're in agreement that we should be training in off-duty firearms skills and tactics, then let's move forward with a system any agency's rangemaster can follow. First and foremost, get the officers out to the range with their off-duty firearms for basic skills development.
Realistic conditions are imperative. Officers should come to the range with their firearms and the holsters or off-duty rigs they carry them in.
They should also dress appropriately for the weather. If it's 10 degrees outside and you're on a heated indoor range, turn the heat down and have the officers wear their winter jackets. If they carry their snub-nose, hammerless revolver in an in-the-pants holster, they need to practice drawing the firearm from that holster, or any other off-duty rig they use, wearing the off-duty clothes they normally wear.
With the myriad types of off-duty holsters and rigs that are available, it's important to have officers practice drawing with safe and empty guns first.
Obviously the guy with the shoulder rig needs to be on the end where he's not sweeping the muzzle past the person standing to his side. But the only way to determine how to proceed safely is to have them practice drawing with empty guns first, then correct their drawing techniques. The last thing you want is for someone to swing the muzzle of a loaded firearm past someone else on the firing line.
An officer may not draw her firearm from a particular holster or carry rig in the same way that you would, so safety is always the first priority. See what the officers have and how they're using them, and work with them.
More than one officer has been on the range with the latest high-tech carry rig only to find out it didn't work for him or work with the clothing he was wearing. The only way to determine this is to have them practice drawing the firearm from whatever holster, pocket, concealable garment, or any other way they carry it while wearing the actual clothes they will be wearing when they carry off duty.