Guard Yourself While Carrying Off Duty

A firearm stolen from one officer's vehicle was later used to kill still another-Minneapolis PD Officer Richard Miller, who'd stopped the gun thief in yet another stolen vehicle.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Imagine patronizing a business and finding yourself unarmed and in the middle of a takeover robbery, confronted by multiple suspects that have the drop on you.

That was the position Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dep. Shane York found himself in while visiting a hair salon with his girlfriend. After finding York's police ID in his wallet, the robbers executed him with a bullet to the head.

Awhile back I touched on some of the concerns that cops should consider before taking off-duty action.

But beyond general philosophies, what practices might cops want to get in the habit of doing? What should and shouldn't cops carry on their person while out and about during their weekly emancipations from work?

To avoid finding themselves in a vulnerable position similar to that of Dep. York, some cops carry a second wallet bereft of anything that might identify them as police officers. Others forego carrying a badge altogether, or elect to carry photo ID in a less accessible area of their belongings.

Your decision may well be predicated on whether or not you're predisposed to taking any kind of off-duty action. (Which can be something of a catch-22 as your off-duty identification may be the only thing keeping responding officers from shooting at you).

Years ago, I wasn't shy about getting in off-duty situations. I made several good felony hooks, even got some decent attaboys, corralled a pervert or two, and saved at least one man's life.

But I haven't gotten involved in an off-duty incident in years and have made a conscious decision not to. Unless it's truly a matter of life or death, I just don't think it's worth the risks I'd be incurring in taking such action.

Fortunately, there are still those gung ho youngsters that are still willing to brave dirtbags and circumstances, all the while suppressing any fears of getting sued and losing all their worldly possessions. Assuming these courageous souls carry a firearm off duty and are inclined to take off-duty action, what else might they want to have at their disposal?

Well, how about some manner of less lethal weaponry? Yeah, just like that stuff dangling from your arsenalled waist. Maybe something along the lines of a personal TASER, OC spray, or collapsible baton? That old saw about having different tools in your toolbox is no less applicable away from work than it is on the job, especially if you live in a particularly litigious area of the country.

Something else I'd try to have with me would be  a cell phone - with a reputable service provider, of course. Some cops even carry cell phones in lieu of a firearm, figuring that it's smarter to just call the local authorities than take independent action. In either event, I'd also have the PDs of those areas that I live or work in, or otherwise frequent, on speed-dial. Probably a lawyer, too.

High on my list would be disposable cuffs and restraints such as those available through Monadnock. If I opted for conventional cuffs instead, then I'd make damn sure I had keys to go with them. (How else are you going to keep unruly SOBs detained otherwise?) Besides, your carrying restraints as well as a sidearm could come in handy under cross-examination: Not only were you prepared to shoot someone if necessary, but were otherwise prepared to deal with the incident at a level in comport with what is expected of you on duty.

The whole notion of off-duty carry can be a can of worms, which accounts for some police agencies changing police mandates from "officers shall have their sidearms with them while off-duty" to "officers may have their sidearm with them."

This finds cops often positioning themselves in half-assed compromises and while officers would be well advised not to leave their guns in personal vehicles, many do. Part of the problem may be a matter of bad conditioning: Many police academies have historically lectured rookie cops to secure their firearms in the trunks of their cars, a habit many officers adhere to long after the driving impetus for the request - their rookie status - ceases to be a concern.

Unfortunately, such habits can prove fateful not only for the firearm's owner, but for others, as well.

A firearm stolen from one officer's vehicle was later used to kill still another - Minneapolis PD Officer Richard Miller, who'd stopped the gun thief in yet another stolen vehicle.

As thieves are increasingly targeting cars known to be owned by cops, it would make sense for cops to avoid calling attention to their profession while off duty. (Obligatory disclaimer: Admittedly, I still wear LASD logoed shirts from time to time, but almost exclusively when I work out. Even then, I tend to be circuitous in getting to and from my vehicle. Usually because I forgot where the hell I parked it.)

Rookies are particularly vulnerable to making their choice of profession known, routinely sporting embroidered garments and caps while patronizing malls where they left the Ford with the FOP sticker and "Feel Safe Tonight - Sleep With a Cop" license plate frame in the parking lot. Then they wonder why their cars end up vandalized.

When it comes to firearms, what and where a cop carries on his person are twin concerns.

Ideally, off-duty carry should be a concession between security and comfort. You want the weapon accessible to you, but not readily discernable to those about you. Cops take pride in their ability to profile gaits, postures, and mid-rift bulges in determining whether or not a subject is armed. Sometimes, the person profiled is a suspect; sometimes, it's an off-duty cop. Yet how often do these expert profilers concern themselves with the possibility that the manner in which they dress or carry themselves might allow a suspect to identify them as cops and get the drop on them?

Whatever else, today's cops have much more latitude in what and where they carry than in the past. Many specialty garment lines offer a variety of shirts, jackets, and pants that allow for comfortable concealed carry.

Certainly, I wish I had such options back in the day. I don't know how many guys sport ankle holsters these days, but mine not only threw my body out of whack (BTW: What's a "whack?") but was damned difficult to get to (memo: no more boot-cut jeans).

Then there was the backup I used to carry in the back pocket of my uniform pants. Not only did my two-inch wreak havoc on my spine, but I stupidly had its hammer filed down so that it wouldn't get caught on the hem of my pockets. Unfortunately, the "gunsmith" ended up rendering the firearm useless because the hammer's diminished weight precluded a sufficient strike of the firing pin. (Yes, boys and girls, I am not above exploiting my own idiocies for your benefit).

Whatever and wherever you carry off-duty, please practice drawing and firing it while decked out in the clothes you're apt to be sporting while out and about in society. There's a great deal of difference in accessibility to your firearm and firing it while in civilian attire than there is in your Class As on the firing line.

Don't find out the hard way.

What are your off-duty practices and concerns? And why haven't you befriended me on Facebook yet? 

About the Author
Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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