The new off duty

Click here to read "12 rules for off-duty conduct", an online extra to complement "The new off duty"!

     In February 2006, Law Enforcement Technology published "12 rules for off-duty conduct," a primer on the transition between on-duty and off-duty.

     While this article was written three years ago, the basic concepts were appropriate 50 years ago and likely will be appropriate 50 years hence. However, some things have changed. Many agencies have lost their tax base and are left to perform the same services with fewer employees and less infrastructure. Furthermore, we are quickly becoming a society that looks for the government to intervene and resolve problems, which only a few years ago most would have addressed themselves.

     In the midst of all this, the public still demands that these twice pared down agencies offer the same amount of protection for each county, municipality or township. Some agencies have been downright inventive in their ability to provide services to their communities. For example, The City of San Diego has an efficiently organized volunteer workforce that is larger than almost half the law enforcement agencies in the United States.

     Another part of the current problem is a rise in unprovoked violence against officers. As a society, we have done more to protect the constitutional rights of those who advocate violence against officers than the victim officers themselves. The national average of officers per 1,000 in population has recently shown a slight decline. For 2009, there is a glaring spike of assaults against peace officers. Regardless of the explanation for this trend, we need to somehow do more with less and protect our officers on the street.

     The new off-duty should reflect the fact that officers may have to be more prepared to intervene on behalf of his on-duty counterpart, or more likely, intervene in an active incident. Individual officers should simply be more prepared to "help their buddies" than ever.

     Thus off-duty officers should carry a streamlined version of their on-duty equipment. This includes a handgun and adequate ammunition, a knife, a less-lethal device, handcuffs, badge, ID, communications equipment and a flashlight. If there's room, other miscellaneous tools are recommended.


     Off-duty clothing should have unrestricted movement and officers should appear innocuous while wearing it. Clothing that says "I'm a cop" — in tactical colors and packs that scream "off-duty officer"— are out and hidden in plain sight stuff is in. Clothing manufacturer Arborwear makes work jeans with sturdy pockets and a gusseted crotch. For a more tactical version, Arborwear has a pair with cargo pockets that offers freedom of movement like a martial arts uniform. We tested this material, originally made for folks who swing chain saws all day, and found it breathed extremely well, was stain resistant and had a little flex in the weave. Neither pant looks like tactical wear, but they really are. Wearing a patterned shirt like 5.11's Covert Casual Plaid Shirt will break up the "print" of the duty gun underneath. This product was specifically designed for the off-duty officer and is surveillance team friendly as well.


     The rule never changes: Carry the most effective firearm that wardrobe allows, and wardrobe should be congruent with climate. For waistband carry, IWB (inside the waistband) is usually recommended. Test the outfit by putting the gun in and raising both hands, slightly bending side to side. If the gun is still concealed, the system works. This is another reason why we like the 5.11 plaid shirt. IWB holsters should not significantly add to the width of the tucked gun and should hold securely while running.

     For off-duty firearms, we define effective caliber as something with a history of proven duty performance. This includes, but is not limited to .45 ACP, 40 S&W, .357 SIG, .357, 9mm and .38+P.

     When it comes to circumstances where off-duty officers must intervene immediately, we should consider what we know about recent active homicide incidents — that is, a person begins killing and is still active when police are called on-scene.

     The majority of these situations occur where gun possession is limited or prohibited — this reduces the potential of a lawfully armed citizen ending it. Second, the incident is rarely, if ever, negotiated to its end. Usually an officer neutralizes the shooter or the shooter commits suicide. Third, the idea is to strike defenseless persons, not trained armed officers. In this case, the faster the intervention, the better.

     Knowing this, we should encourage HR 218-eligible persons to carry and require them to be effective from grappling distances to the practical limits of a handgun, about 25 yards. Officers should be ready to shoot, move and communicate; strictly adhering to department directives but also prepared to augment the effort on an emergency basis.

     Our ideal package is the SIG SAUER P239 in .357 SIG. It works well in Bianchi's Model 100 holster, as both handgun and magazines are flat. When we experimented with this gun and cartridge combination, we discovered its superior after-barrier penetration and plus-25 yard accuracy, which explains SIG SAUER's new military contract. Several isolated incidents have indicated the faster bullet is unimpeded by vehicle doors and panels.

     If the wardrobe requires pocket carry, the .38+P or .357 with a laser is ideal. Our pick is the Smith & Wesson M&P 340 CT. This is a 13.3-ounce .357 Magnum with a Crimson Trace LaserGrip. Thanks to the Safariland Model 25 Pocket holster, the M&P 340 CT can be carried safely in the pocket, even in running shorts. This holster is lightweight but covers the trigger guard, a requirement for pocket carry. The holster's detente keeps the gun in place.


     No two things about it: Regardless of the manner in which a tactical knife is used, its use must be one-handed and fast. Our pick is Benchmade's 522 SBK Pardue Axis. It uses the ambidexterous Axis Lock, a brilliant mechanism that secures the blade with a hardened steel bar that seats itself in a machined slot in the tang. This gives these knives two unique traits. They open quickly and effortlessly, much smoother than a liner lock. The deadbolt-like lock is all about speed and strength.

     The tactical knife is most likely employed for heavy cutting chores, not as a last ditch defense tool. Still, like the handgun, when the officer needs it, he needs it bad. We recommend a one-hand locking blade that holds a good edge and can stand in for other emergency tasks like quickly slashing window screens, household wiring and exposing search areas like car interiors. The other smaller percentage should include a blade that can be put into use quickly from the pocket.


     Why is a pen recommended for off duty? For tough note taking, of course. The Benchmade 1150 is a precision machined fine writing instrument designed for extreme use. When we first received this tool, we promptly put it through several barriers like wallboard and sheetrock. Even when the all-weather writing tip is exposed, it can be driven through sheetrock and returned to duty.

     The 1150 is sturdy enough for emergencies like knocking off door hinge pins or breaking car windows. Used correctly, a person can transition from writing to feeding it to a threat, without breaking stride. Administrators should consider keeping a stock of these pens on hand for presenting to officers as merit awards.

Taser and less lethal

     Off-duty products are generally aimed at the civilian market and are self-defensive in nature. Because of this, the disparity must be overcome with practice, training and knowledge. Although the Taser C2 was designed for civilian use, it has a similar manual of arms as the on-duty version, including a drive stun feature. Provided the off-duty officer never strays from the parameters of department policy, this tool could be used.

     Also in less lethal we recommend ASP's Palm Defender and Kimber Pepper Blaster. Both make excellent refillable pepper spray products. They are innocuous looking to the point that a person can have one in his or her hand while discreetly protected.


     Originally, we were looking at the lightest pair of handcuffs available. We quickly abandoned this quest after talking to officers who have employed such tools in the past. Handcuffs made of materials other than steel have a reputation of failure. Handcuffs by definition are temporary restraints. Besides temporarily restraining suspects, they can be used for aerial denial. An officer can lock business doors or disable equipment, including an automobile, with a good set of cuffs and some mechanical knowledge. Deny terrain during an active shooter incident is a combat multiplier.

     Officers should carry standard steel chain-link ratcheting handcuffs with heavy-duty rivets. Although hinged handcuffs are generally more secure, chain link is more versatile. Cuffs generally run between 10 and 16 ounces. We selected Peerless Model 700 Handcuffs for this article. They are serialized, reinforced cuffs with welded links, double locks and engineering designed to some of the typical vulnerabilities found in lesser models. Peerless Model 700 Cuffs weigh 10 ounces.


     The off-duty flashlight should fit in the pocket, be bright enough to back up the primary light and use a common power source or have an extraordinary runtime. It should have a push button momentary switch or preferably a momentary/constant "on" switch. Our pick for this was easy: The Pelican 360 has all of these features and delivers 100 lumens from two AA cells. The 2.5-watt unit weighs 4.6 ounces and has a bright white high-intensity LED — it gives more usable light that many high tech tactical torches and would excel in disaster recovery ops because of its durability and power consumption. This is the epitome of an on-duty/backup/off-duty torch.

Be off duty

     Although it might seem contradictory to the purpose of this article, a heightened state of awareness is stress inducing. The other part of off-duty conduct that officers should practice regularly is actually being "off-duty." That is, they should be encouraged to use vacation time rather than cash it in, and do things that have nothing to do with their job. The new off duty is about being efficient while off, and then knowing when to really be "off."

     Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, Calif.