Some factors have changed in police work today, specifically the density of officers to citizens in any given community. A glaring example is this: Tucson started 2011 with more than 40 fewer officers when its recent tragedy occurred. And Oakland, Calif., had to face a mass officer layoff after mourning the loss of four of its own.
If I had been at any of the hundreds of incidents against law enforcement officers in the country annually, I would have intervened. Anyone who has shouldered the weight of the badge would have intervened. The likelihood of a fellow officer being in a position to help is statistically low, but any one of us would, provided we don’t become part of the problem. There are rules to which off-duty officers must adhere.
As I write this article, a single concept has massaged my primary focus. There have been 11 felonious homicides against peace officers in the past 24 hours. There have been 14 officer deaths as of early February. Deadly and devastating assaults against officers have clearly risen. As a firearms tactics writer, my job is to keep the officer safety dialogue alive, to help keep officers alive.
Trainers have always adhered to the mantra “off duty is off duty,” meaning it is advisable not to get involved. However, if the situation requires intervention, preparation for an incident will improve the outcome every time. Just for clarification, most incidents against police officers happen when they are on duty. However, the concept of “semper vigilantes” should be the mantra for off-duty officers.
Foremost, off-duty actions must demonstrate an immediacy in the protection of life or property. Every agency must have a policy for officers off duty, especially for incidents like an officer unwittingly being dragged into a neighbor dispute. Policies must take into account, and protect, the officer from the predatory neighbor. The courts’ have upheld that if the officer’s actions are a result of enforcing the law or protecting the public and falls within the scope of their employment, the conduct is reasonable.
For example, in Schilt v. New York City Transit Authority (New York Supreme Court), the court deliberated whether or not the officer invoked his peace officer powers to ensure his vehicle would be repaired by the motorist during a collision/confrontation between an off-duty officer and a motorist. The rule is, if it furthers the interest of the officer, they are no longer a disinterested party. We expect officers to operate as disinterested parties. Whenever they don’t, it becomes a chink in the armor of immunity.
Preparation for an off-duty incident should include four major factors:
“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” — Thomas Jefferson
After the 1996 Olympics, research studies were initiated to identify winning routines and attitudes of the top athletes. Mind you, the studies were really identifying the top athletes of the top athletes. What these studies found was never a surprise. Top athletes have physical routines that create habituation, which often goes by the misnomer “muscle memory.” All good athletes practice to achieve physical endurance, conditioning and skills. What distinguished the 5-percenters from the achievers were the concepts of imagery and emotional control. The imagery part includes mental rehearsal. The emotional control includes an internal dialogue. If one attends a Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar, this is called “positive self talk.”
Mental preparation needs to include drills that bring the officer to reality when in the middle of an incident, and when the dust has momentarily settled. I am a firm believer in including a “check 6” with shooting drills. This is an old aviation term (actually the origin is sometimes disputed) for looking at the rear of the craft. It was adopted by firearms trainers to ensure peripheral awareness.
Checking 6 is done like this: When there is a pause in the incident, good shooters are trained to “reholster reluctantly.” The shooter goes into decock, (finger off trigger), kicks the safety on (finger off trigger) for an M1911 or gets the finger off the trigger for a DAO. The officer s-l-o-w-l-y goes to low ready. Using the “this side toward enemy” philosophy, meaning the gun is still pointed at the greatest perceived threat, the officer looks left and right approximately 270 degrees.
Speaking of checking 6, I have to say it: BLACKHAWK! makes a concealment holster called the Check-Six for M1911 style handgun carry. The company makes it for many models (I have carried a Kimber in one) but the Check-Six/M1911 combination keeps everything out of the way when sling carrying an AR-15.
When the officer is at Check 6, he or she needs to go through a mental checklist. The only way the officer can prepare for this checklist is to mentally rehearse for it ahead of time, here and now. Here are a few suggestions for the checklist, which should be modified for appropriateness, depending on the needs of the individual officer.
1. Have I communicated to others around me?
2. It is likely I do not know how many rounds I fired? I have a fresh magazine and I will insert it now.
3. If I can handcuff the suspect, I will.
4. Is the situation stable?
5. What are my assets?
6. I must render first aid.
7. I must announce who I am and that I am rendering first aid.
Besides physical fitness, officers should be conscious of their competence in simple physical tasks required for the job. For example, at a local agency, the firearms training program started many of their shooting drills from the “low ready,” never beginning or ending with a holstered gun. When they did fire from the holster, it was from the duty holster, even for officers in non-uniform assignments.
I can tell you from personal experience that sometimes an officer needs to holster quickly and go to other tools. If it is not practiced, situations like looking at the holster when going to scabbard (a no-no in the business), or missing the holster, can range from embarrassing to injurious. Lack of this physical conditioning may delay the officer’s response or worsen the situation.
Mindset is an attitude or bearing of personal success. Half of this equation has already been resolved. As officers, we know that winning and prevailing is part of why we were first employed. The other half of the equation is our attitude of preparation. We prevail because we maintain a level of fitness, keep our lives unsullied and prefer to end our shifts on our feet.
The internal dialogue is part of the mindset, which I routinely practiced while negotiating the fatal funnel or sneaking through a dark alley. I routinely told myself that I will win any fight, I will not die in a dark alley nor will I give up, regardless of the situation.
The phenomenon of mindset, by the way, is why poor administrative decisions are especially stressful to officers. Succinctly, poor administrative decisions make officers feel as if their ability to control a situation is usurped.
No officer should rely on “lowest bidder” equipment and we don’t. However, we also need to maintain a familiarity with our equipment and choose tools that make tactical sense for the assignment or the situation. I had a conversation with Rob Pincus of I.C.E. Training about off-duty training. Pincus offers a system approach to training, called Combat Focus Shooting. I.C.E. Training classes can be brought to the agency. Like most firearms trainers, Pincus advocates strong side carry that is as similar as possible to duty carry.
Pincus tells me, “The more consistent your off-duty carry set up is, the more efficient your training can be. Most companies manufacturing “duty guns” also manufacture compact versions that are easier to conceal, but consistent in operation. The next step is carrying as close to strong-side hip as possible.”
Strong-side carry is best, but I am also a believer in pocket carry. This year at SHOT Show I got to see Magnum’s new Rapid Deployment Apparel line, low key tactical clothing with cotton ripstop outer material and subtle extras like a place to insert knee pads and reinforced pockets, which are carry friendly. I recommend mocha or desert sage for discreet colors.
I actually practice the hand-in-pocket-shrugged-shoulder look that keeps my J-frame indexed in my hand for a ready draw in a deteriorated situation.
Foremost, “I’m a cop” clothing should be strictly avoided. I prefer subdued, “non-tactical” colors that make a person look like he or she is going for a stroll rather than a warrant service. Fortunately, everyone likes the ripstop BDU look with pockets on the thighs because they are comfortable.
Law enforcement officers are effective because of their sense of duty and decision making skills. Sometimes their sense of duty is overwhelming. While every situation is unique, being ready for a quick transition to duty status can’t hurt.