On Duty vs. Off Duty vs. Retired Carry

Oct. 16, 2020
It’s amazing how what you carry changes from on duty to off duty and then again when you move into retirement.

On any given day at any given firearms range, during any given qualifications, you can hear numerous conversations about the equipment carried by officers both on and off duty. What’s interesting, when you think about it, is that the gear doesn’t change that much. There’s a gun, spare magazines, knives, lights, maybe medical equipment for trauma care. One well-known firearms instructor is often quoted as having said, “I carry two trauma kits: one for causing it and one for fixing it.” The conversation changed a bit one day at the range when a retired officer was there for qualifications and chuckled as he thought about all the stuff he no longer carried. We thought it would be interesting to take a look at the differences. 


Most uniformed officers have agency-set requirements for what they can and must carry on duty. From an issued sidearm, radio, spare magazines, impact weapon, chemical spray, handcuffs, electronic control device, trauma kit and flashlight to a body-worn camera, the profession has grown to having to carry so much that it doesn’t all fit on the gun belt anymore and many agencies have moved to put some of it on equipment vests—often carrying the body armor as well.

One officer we spoke with detailed his on-duty “loadout”:

  1. An issued Glock Model 17
  2. Four spare magazines (they work a relatively rough neighborhood)
  3. Radio
  4. Two pair of handcuffs
  5. ASP collapsible baton
  6. A primary and back up flashlight (primary was SureFire, backup was ASP)
  7. A canister of OC spray
  8. An Axon ECD
  9. A pouch with three pair of nitrile gloves
  10. A personal “blow out” kit (tourniquet, hemostatic gauze, pre-measured Nasopharyngeal airway)
  11. The mandated body-worn camera
  12. A knife in each pocket (left and right front pocket of pants)

Off duty

Thankfully, not all that has to be carried off duty. Still, the off-duty officer should have enough on his person to respond to an emergency situation and take appropriate action. For one veteran officer located in Texas, even at a bare minimum, the off-duty loadout looks something like the below.
  1. A Glock Model 43 9mm with Trijicon night sights
  2. Two magazines (one loaded in the weapon and one spare) equipped with Vickers extended floor plates
  3. It was specified that the weapon is carried in an EGA Appendix Holster (carrying IWB Appendix has grown in popularity as the off-duty weapons have shrunk in size and holster technology has improved)
  4. A Benchmade SOC-P knife in the right front pocket
  5. An Emerson Super Commander knife in the waist (IWB clipped in)
  6. A Cold Steel Spike (or other) neck knife (carried hung on a lanyard to chain around the neck, under the shirt)
  7. A Swiss Army Tinker knife in a right front pocket

This particular officer made it abundantly clear that their preference, off duty, was to avoid getting involved in anything that wasn’t a true emergency (i.e. if people are bleeding due to violence or under imminent threat). This officer has worked the streets in uniform, both patrol and SWAT, investigations, and in training. Like most veteran officers, their eagerness for getting involved in anything off-duty has long ago faded away to nothing.

The retired officer started out detailing the equipment he carries off-duty with the statement that he carries nothing on the belt. (Jokingly referencing that the belt did enough duty holding the pants up.) He stated that the only thing that was carried day to day was a CRKT M-16 folding knife—the same knife that he carried on-duty for 20+ years. Even though it was pretty worn out, it still served the purpose of a general utility cutting tool.

As to a firearm, he said he used to carry a Beretta .25ACP in a pocket but now only carries a gun when out and about on his farm. Located in southeast Texas, he worries more about snakes and feral hogs than bad guys, so the firearm of choice is a Smith & Wesson Governor revolver chambered for .410 gauge or .45 Long Colt. He loads three chambers of each and uses .410 8-shot for the snakes. The three chambers of .45 Long Colt are meant to discourage (or kill) the feral pigs or other aggressive animals.

When you look back at those three different load-outs, you can clearly see the different needs and expectations for force. On duty there are all the necessary tools to effect an arrest, defend the officer or innocents from harm, and the ability to exercise every different level of force that might be necessary. Interestingly, the on-duty loadout and the retired load-out had one thing in common: a rifle near at hand just in case it becomes necessary—on duty for a response to active killer events or for longer engagements (it is after all in Texas) and off duty for the larger potentially aggressive animals. Both rifles are carried properly secured in a locked bracket. The on-duty officer has spare rifle magazines available, while the off-duty officer does not.

Consider the lists of equipment and think about your own current on- versus off-duty load out. Take a moment to think about how far you are from retirement (either a fun or disappointing thought depending on just how far away that date is). Take a moment and think about what you’ll want to carry when you do retire. It always pays to plan ahead.  

About the Author

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret), Editorial Director | Editorial Director

Lt. Frank Borelli is the Editorial Director for the Officer Media Group. Frank brings 20+ years of writing and editing experience in addition to 40 years of law enforcement operations, administration and training experience to the team.

Frank has had numerous books published which are available on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and other major retail outlets.

If you have any comments or questions, you can contact him via email at [email protected].

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