Dealing With the Off-Duty Cop

Not much has been written about the prospect of dealing with the off-duty cop. Yet you can be certain that at some point you will.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

Many a column has been written about the inherent threats that come with being an off-duty cop, how important it is to weigh the need to take positive action, and how to avoid becoming a victim of friendly fire in the process.

Not so much has been written about the prospect of dealing with the off-duty cop. Yet you can be certain that at some point you will.

Most of the time, the contacts will be innocuous. He may be the informant on a call...a witness to a collision...the motorist you warned and advised before sending him on his way.

There are other times, too, such as when you encounter them incident to family disturbance calls, residential burglary reports, or civil dispute.

Even then, they will be decidedly in one camp, and you in another.

Yet there are other situations that can prove problematic: situations where you find yourself becoming part of the equation, or dealing with someone who just gets under your skin and happens to have a badge.

One deputy found himself in a real can of worms when he was contacted by the commander of a nearby city's PD. The commander, off-duty and in civilian attire, had left a fanny pack containing his sidearm in a shopping cart that he was sure had been collected by a black female shopper. The deputy asked him if he was sure that the woman in question had his gun.

"I'm positive," the commander said. "She's the only one that could have gotten it."

The deputy contacted the female who immediately became defensive and uncooperative. To make a long story short, the deputy ended up using force on the woman.

The commander immediately began to backpedal, hedging any proclamation that she'd taken the weapon.

"I said that I thought she'd taken it," he said.

It turned out that she never had the gun. It was found by another shopper who subsequently reported it to the station.

As the woman was understandably upset, the incident had acquired a racial undertone, and words like "I'll sue all your asses" were in the air. I ended up interviewing store employees who'd been in proximity of the conversation between the commander and the deputy. Their statements corroborated the deputy's version of events documented and on tape.

It wasn't as though the deputy hadn't done as much as possible to nail down the guy's story in the first place - he had. But the faith he placed in the man - by virtue of the man's being a fellow officer - had been betrayed. Suddenly, the guy was backtracking and leaving the deputy who'd acted as his agent out to hang.

As a supervisor I'd find myself being asked to roll by where some deputy had detained an off-duty cop for DUI. The unspoken hope (expectation) was that I'd kick him loose. I thought it was chickenshit for them to try to pass the buck on to me and told them as much. I also told them to take him in. It didn't make me feel good, but it was what it was.

Depending upon the circumstances, I wasn't above the occasional "spirit of the law" amnesty whether a guy was a cop or not. But in such situations it was my decision from the get-go: I didn't try to pass the buck.

Off-duty cops can display all manner of attitudes. Some will flash badges out the driver's window while you're trying to pull them over (for the third time in a month). Others will loudly proclaim their vocational status after they've knocked some poor schmuck on his ass in a bar as though it's a "king's x." Then there are those who won't even attempt to disguise the contempt they feel that you're not a member of their esteemed department.

I love cops. But as Stephen King notes of police hiring practices in his latest novel, Under the Dome, "You buy cheap, you get cheap." It follows that some are not so deserving of the faith we tend to put in them.

Professional courtesy is a phrase that gets tossed around and debated on the listserve Police_L. It is something that I suspect most practitioners of similar ilk extend one another. However, it is not something that should be extended lightly, and there are those who have extended a "professional courtesy" to a fellow officer and regretted it, either because the guy went out and did another DUI, or because he spouted his mouth off about the amnesty and the wrong person (or the right person) got wind of it.

Regardless of which side of the equation you may one day find yourself on, it will help to have a game plan in place ahead of time.

I don't imagine most cops lie awake at night wondering how they can hook up another officer. If anything, they wonder how they can avoid it.

One thing you can do to prevent negative situations is to model good off-duty behavior yourself, and reward it when you come across it. Another is to not reward bad behavior.

Any off-duty cop who's inclined to give you a bad time will probably do as much to the next cop down the road. Indeed, it may well be business as usual with him. Do what you have to do. If he doesn't like it, then get a supervisor - just as you might when dealing with any other citizen.

Which is exactly what he is.

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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