To carry off-duty or not to carry off-duty... that is the question.
Photo credit: John Wills
Carrying a weapon off duty has been a lively topic of discussion for decades. As with most issues, being armed 24/7 has its pros and cons. However, if we look at this topic objectively, particularly, from a standpoint of risk and reward, I think most of us can agree that a police officer should carry their weapon while off duty.
To begin with, I think we recognize that our profession is a dangerous one. The chance that we will encounter dangerous people during our shift is great. That likelihood diminishes once we put the badge in our ID case and head home, but it doesn’t disappear completely. Depending on the city or town in which you reside, you may or may not enjoy a measure of anonymity. A majority of the residents will most likely know most small town police officers. Thus, whether in or out of uniform folks know that you are the police. It’s probably an advantage to be recognized as law enforcement. But it can also have a downside—that target you wear on your back while on duty, remains with you off-duty as well. Moreover, if a bad guy knows you’re a cop, he may take the chance to do you harm when he sees you in civvies, hoping you’re not carrying.
Big city cops can generally blend in with the rest of the citizenry. Places like New York and Chicago are home to millions of people. It’s easy to remain anonymous among the masses. The other side of that coin, however, is that big cities also have a higher incidence of violent crime. The probability of an off-duty cop, himself becoming a victim of crime, increases in larger towns.
Sometimes when discussing this most-often personal decision (some departments make it mandatory to carry off-duty, thus the decision is made for them) some cops have the mindset that when I’m off-duty I don’t do police work. These cops may be damn good on duty, but prefer to leave the job at the station. Others look at police work from a purely financial perspective, reasoning that if my department wants me to get involved in off-duty incidents they should pay me extra.
Then there are the pragmatic issues of when and where to carry. In other words, where do you draw the line? What about during exercise at the gym, or jogging along the lakefront? Do you take your gun? How about family events, like a cookout or attending a football game? (That decision may be out of our hands, now that the NFL has decided no off-duty guns are allowed at games.) One venue that has always been a point of contention is church—should you carry there, or leave it in the car? Certainly, nothing evil can occur in a church. (Numerous shootings do happen in church, the latest in Lake Charles, Louisiana.)
One cop I know bases his decision on whether to carry, by doing a threat assessment. If he decides the trip to the gas station, or walking the dog doesn’t pose a great threat, he won’t take his weapon. Although I marvel at his intuition and ability to be able to predict human behavior and the severity of events, I think he plays a fool’s game.
The FBI’s 2010 report on Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assaulted, indicated that there were five LEOs killed while off-duty. It doesn’t state whether or not these heroes purposely interjected themselves into a situation. But picture yourself witnessing something going down that warrants your involvement. Would you be better served having your weapon or not having it?
As human beings, we all have opinions on many things. As cops, we seem to have more opinions than those non-LE types. Not only that, but we strongly voice our opinions about them as well. There is a segment of those in the LE community that identify themselves as “Sheepdogs,” and/or “Warriors.” These men and women never hesitate to take action. They carry their guns wherever they go. They don’t necessarily look for incidents to become involved in, but they don’t shy away from them either. They know when to take action, or when to be the best witness they can be. They view being a cop as a vocation, not just a paycheck.
For me, the most important reason for carrying off-duty is family. If for no other reason than protecting your spouse and children, you should always carry your weapon. I would hate to be sitting somewhere with my family and have an incident occur in which one of my family members suffers an injury, or worse, death, simply because I did not have my weapon available. That nightmare would haunt me forever.
The bottom line is that you don’t need your weapon until you need it. Can you predict when you will need it? No. Carry your weapon.
Stay safe, Brothers and Sisters!