Every so often we read a story about an off-duty cop who has come to the aid of innocent third parties while off duty. When this aid involves the display or use of the officer's firearm, we all nod in agreement about how this incident is one more reason that President Bush did the right thing when he signed the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act - A.K.A. HR 218 - into law a few years ago. Most of us chalk the incident up to one more example of why we all ought to be carrying a firearm whether on-duty or not. Many of us will add the incident to the long list of reasons that qualified citizens ought to be able to carry a firearm - after all there are more of them than there are of us.
A couple years ago, Detective Ivan Davison of NYPD made headlines for a while when he came to the aid of a man being savagely beaten by six thugs. Even New York's famously anti-gun mayor, Michael Bloomberg, praised Detective Davison's actions. Perhaps the most famous example in recent years of an off-duty officer coming to the aid of innocent third parties was the Utah mall shooting in which off-duty officer Ken Hammond, who was having dinner in the mall with his wife, intervened to stop an active shooter. I admire these officers, and I hope that if I ever find myself in the same situation that they did, I'd do what they did: intervene and stop the violence.
However, there is another valid point of view, and that is that you should not intervene while off duty. This is the opinion of a friend of mine; a man who is a very good cop and is as tough as they come. He's someone I wouldn't just not mind, but would actually want beside me in a bad situation. And you know what? Agree or not (and I'm sure this will generate huge amounts of disagreement), my friend has a line of reasoning worth considering before you make your own decision.
The case for intervening is rather simply put. There is innocent life in danger from evil people. We not only have the pre-disposition to defend the innocent from evil, but have chosen a career of so doing. In fact, we've probably taken extensive training on our own time and nickel that honed our skills for such action. In short: it's our duty; honor demands it; morality demands it; it's what we do; it's who we are. We'd diminish ourselves and our profession by not intervening; we'd be cowards.
The case for not intervening is also rather simply put. To whom is our primary and greatest responsibility? The answer to any of us with families is: to them. If we are with our family when the bad thing happens, is not our greatest responsibility to see them clear to safety before we do anything else? Further, once they are safe, or if we are alone, if we decide to then intervene, we are obviously putting ourselves at serious risk. It is very possible that we could be injured or killed during this intervention, and that we could not afterward provide for our family. Clearly, depriving our family of a parent and/or bread winner would do them grievous harm.
Remember, if you are off-duty, and particularly if you are out of your jurisdiction, your health insurance coverage may differ from the coverage you enjoy on-duty, and line of duty death benefits may not apply. To what end? To possibly help third parties to whom we owe - if anything at all - much less than that which we owe to our own family. That is, by intervening we put the welfare of strangers above the welfare of our own family. That's not an opinion, but a stark fact, and one that we don't often think of.
Now, my friend was not talking about on-duty actions. If we are on-duty, we clearly have a duty and an obligation to act. We made that decision when we took our oath. My friend was talking about off-duty situations, in which we have no official duty or obligation to act.