Are you prepared to survive an off-duty lethal force encounter?
Photo credit: Kevin Davis
It was a drag. I was working recently rehabbing a property my wife and I own in the city, getting it ready for rental. I was off-duty painting, cleaning gutters and the like and wearing a pistol. It was not convenient, I got dust from sanding a wall on my handgun but I was still going to wear it. Day in, day out – trips to our rental, trips to the hardware store for whatever we needed – I carried an off-duty pistol and at times it was a bother: getting home from work, changing clothes and gearing up with my Raven Concealment Systems: Phantom Modular Holster and my Glock 19 as well as a spare mag carried in a Bianchi belt scabbard and heading out the door. It was a drag but like always, I got over it. The alternative was to not carry and that was/is simply unacceptable. I will not place my wife, daughters, sons or grandchildren or my safety in the cold hands of fate. It is simply not going to happen…ever.
From the time I was a young boy I have witnessed violent people commit violent acts. I saw my first police shooting when I was a pup on a summer day. I saw my first stabbing a few years later and in between and since have witnessed untold number of assaults including being assaulted myself. All of this before I ever went to high school. Events and the people we meet help shape us and it certainly is true that I knew violent people existed and began training for them years before I was 18 and started working security at a concert facility during college. Several years of the security business before I was sworn in as a Deputy Sheriff cemented my feeling that bad things happened to good people.
And that’s Rule #1: Bad things can and do happen to good people.
Rule #2: Bad things happen when you least expect it.
Rule #3: You better be ready: physically, mentally, armed and skilled when bad things happen.
These rules are based on hard life lessons that I’ve learned from witnessing and experiencing violence on and off-duty over a long career. We can morph them into a winning strategy for off-duty incidents.
Lessons Learned / Strategies
One of my favorite writers as a new law enforcement officer and for years after was Evan Marshall. Evan is now a retired sergeant from the Detroit Police Department who has had tremendous street and off-duty experiences (I believe 11 armed encounters) and had a style of relating those to the reader that I found contained a tremendous amount of common sense and worked on the street. Sgt. Marshall had a number of armed encounters off-duty in the Motor City. He carried everywhere (even before the days of HB218 by the way) and although he recommended against intervention off-duty, sometimes he was a feces magnet and would not be found unarmed (at least two guns by the way). Since Evan’s writings influenced me, I’ll give him credit and pass the legacy along to you.
- Don’t leave your awareness and mental edge in the locker at the end of your tour. Heck a recent shooting in my city resulted in bullets flying into the parking deck where the nightshifts park. I had just walked out of the deck and into the station a couple of minutes before. Mopes are mopes 24/7 even though you’re only a cop eight to 12 hours on shift. The mental edge that serves you so well on-shift must work for you off-duty as well.
- Don’t go to risky places off-duty. Seems simple but if the business or area is dangerous, avoid it. Trendy bars, strip clubs, motorcycle rallies, etc all attract a drunken, drugged and at times violent crowd. Sure it’s your right to live a “non-cop” life off-duty just don’t expose yourself to greater risk if you have a choice.
- Avoid getting involved in off-duty incidents – if at all possible. Alone or with your family avoid getting involved or revealing your police status. If the situation is deteriorating and violence is occurring or imminent you may have to intervene but otherwise be the best witness you can be.
- Carry your off-duty pistol and at least one reload. I said pistol for a reason, a five-shot revolver is not enough gun. Snubbies are great for back-up but not as your primary armament.
- Carry enough gun. Avoid .380’s or smaller calibers. Sure they’re small, light and “cute” but seldom have the ballistic potential to stop an aggressive assault against you or another.
- Carry a less-lethal option. You’re more likely to need some form of non-deadly force than you are a pistol. Sure, I know you’re a master grappler or a former golden gloves boxer but doesn’t it make more sense to spray them from nine feet away with pepper spray or “Taz em” with your C2 Taser than get into an exchange of fisticuffs?
- Talk to your significant other and family about what you’ll be doing and what they should be doing in the event of pending or occurring violence. Sticking with you when bullets are flying in your direction may not be the thing to do.
- Give your wife, husband or kids a communication plan on how to summon aid to you. These include: your LE status, your description, the fact you’re armed and what the situation is.
- Transfer that street knowledge and violence avoidance to your family members. My college aged daughter is more at risk in today’s world than I am and I’ve tried to prepare her accordingly.
Are these Earth shaking recommendations and strategies? Not even close but Marshall’s writings and recommendations of 25 years ago weren’t either, they were just easy to follow and common sense tips from someone who had been there and “gotten a drawer full of t-shirts” in the process. I’ve tried to thank my life mentors and had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to thank Evan Marshall – an old Detroit street cop and sergeant – for his contribution to saving my bacon and my student’s bacon on and off-duty. My t-shirt drawer may not be quite as full but it includes incidents in plainclothes and off-duty.
The difference between us and the animals is that we can learn from someone else’s mistakes or lessons. Some of these lessons have been paid for with the blood of good cops. Heed and follow them. On or off-duty you’re a cop and it really is dangerous out there…
About The Author:
Kevin Davis is a full-time officer assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, firearms and tactical training. With over 23 years in law enforcement, his previous experience includes patrol, corrections, narcotics and he is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency's SWAT team with over 500 call-outs in tactical operations.