10 funny habits that follow you off-duty

From sitting with your back to a wall in a restaurant to always having your gun hand free, check out these off-duty cop habits

This article is being updated with suggestions from Police1 readers. Make sure to keep reading for more funny off-duty habits and submit your suggestions at the end of the article.

These funny habits follow you home – even after retirement – proving that officers are never truly off-duty.

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1. I constantly look at people's waists and ankles. My wife knows what I'm doing but it's awkward when I do this to waiters and waitresses and they think I'm checking them out. – Bert Estrada

Officers are never truly off-duty.
Officers are never truly off-duty. (iStock image)

2. Put a seatbelt across my groceries on the front seat...just like my duty bag. – Michel Vigeant

3. Do you ever sign a receipt for dinner or store purchase and automatically add your badge number? Cashiers are like 'What's this number?'  – Joe Moore

4. I will be off duty at the store and wave at kids and smile. Their parents look at me like I'm a perv. – Art Walgren

5. I always unbuckle my seatbelt about 30 seconds before I bring my truck to a stop. – Roger Dillon

6. Stand to the side of the door, foot in front of any door that might open out. – Ralph Streicher

7. When I retired, it took me forever to start using my gun hand for anything. After years and years of having it drilled into my head to keep my gun hand free at all times, it was hard to remember I no longer carried a gun. – Scott Roder

8. My husband needs to sit with his back toward a wall so whenever we are in the middle of the restaurant I have to stop and ask him what side he wants and I stand there till he decides. – Victoria LeBlanc

9. I read every license plate around me. I touch my computer screen at home...it’s not a Toughbook. – Adam Christopher

10. I'm retired almost 25 years and I still look at other drivers, I still look for bulges under sweaters, shirts and jackets. I still look for one pants leg hanging longer than the other. – Roy Zinkiewicz

Police1 readers respond

  • Leaving my personal vehicle running when I arrive at the store and trying to lock it with the fob after getting out, only to realize it is my personal car.

  • Driving through town late at night I scan businesses looking for lights on or suspiciously parked vehicles. I will also look at deadbolts when approaching a business to see if the door is locked.

  • When using a power drill I keep my finger outside the trigger guard until I’m ready to use it.

  • When eating out, my wife knows to wait until I check out potential areas of cover and concealment and look for a table where I can face toward the main entrance and ask for seating closest to the emergency exit. Asking for this criteria, I’ve often got some puzzled looks from the staff. My wife now just says, “He a retired police officer…I go through this every time we eat out.”

  • Going to rest my hands on my mag carrier (front left) and my OC pouch (front right) then realizing there is nothing there, and I just look like a goofball holding my belt line.

  • I keep an eye on the fast food employees to make sure they don't spit in my food.

  • I check the roofs and walk close to the wall.

  • Still will not cross an overpass in the number 1 lane if I cant clearly see on the other side…been to too many DUI head-on accidents. Have passed this tip down to all of my adult children.

  • I'm still in "patrol mode" while off duty. I'm always scanning left and right while driving looking for anything suspicious or out of place. I've also been known to drive my wife's mini-van like a patrol car and do a U-turn on a 4-lane road with a center turn lane if I miss a turn.

  • Analyzing every collision I come across to figure out its dynamics and who was at fault.

  • Still back into parking spaces so I can easily see oncoming lot traffic if I need to leave quickly, instead of having to slowly back out to leave. Also, a criminal habit for thieves at banks, malls, chain stores...but a driver stays in the car.

  • I've been retired for seven years now. I still will not sit at a restaurant with my back to the door or will not sit in a booth. I'm fortunate my wife understands and always asks for a table. My head is always on a swivel which makes me look suspicious at times. My wife knows my faces and knows when I've seen something suspicious and is great to follow my tactical lead.

  • When using a public urinal, I continue to stand at a slight angle where I can still catch a view of people approaching.

  • While riding shotgun in a golf cart I'm checking for traffic and advise, "Clear right."

  • If I enter a room where the door opens in, I immediately check behind the door.

  • When stopping in traffic, I leave enough space between my car and the car in front of me so I can see the bottom of their rear tires for any movement just in case they decide to "reverse ram" me, or back up before exiting the lane to escape.

  • After being involved in law enforcement for close to 30+ years, l still stay up to almost day break when l shouldn’t at age 74.

  • Making several passes through the parking lot at a store before finding a parking spot just drives my wife crazy.

  • When I enter a store, if I see a person I consider acting suspicious, I try to watch to determine strong hand and stay on that side in case anything happens. I also sit back to the wall in restaurants and don't parallel stop in traffic and leave myself room at a stop. I also taught my niece and her two brothers the same safety ideas.

  • Just about all of the above-mentioned habits, but I am also trying to get used to having people get behind me. I turn around and watch them, or let them go by.

  • Reaching over to flip my nonexistent lights off duty when someone runs a stop sign in front of me.

  • When I go to a restaurant I sit with my back toward a wall in a place so I have full visibility of the door and from where I can watch what is going on in the dining room. I have a couple of friends who get very concerned when I stand up without telling them where I am going. They know if I stand up and/or pull out my weapon they have to duck under the table. We can laugh about our habits but they keep us and our loved ones alive.

  • As a mental health warrant officer for 25 years, I tend to study people's speech and behavior while having a simple conversation.

  • If I am getting something from the back of a store, before I walk back up front to the cashier, I take a position of advantage to see who's up there and what's going on for a minute before walking up with my purchase. Sometimes I get strange looks from people wondering who is this guy standing there behind a counter or shelf just scanning the cash register area.

  • Watching people watching me. I always think they can "see" me as a cop, and for some reason, they always ask me questions in stores, like I work there. I am either nice, or I look like a Target clerk.

  • Dispatchers do it too! I've been retired for three years, and still see license plates in phonetics: "Edward John Robert..."

  • While driving, reaching out to rest my left hand on the spotlight handle.

  • Stopping before exiting a building to check for anyone loitering in the shadows.

  • When off duty and see a vehicle in the opposite direction speeding, I would reach for the radar remote that I usually kept in the seat between my legs.

  • Every time I exit my personally owned vehicle I reach for my belt line to turn on my portable radio, which isn’t there.

  • When I’m a passenger I always call out "clear right" after I check traffic when entering an intersection.

  • Whenever I pass vehicles, I check for out-of-date validation stickers, cell phone use and seat belts. I also make note of plate numbers of suspicious vehicles.

  • When needing to go to the bathroom while driving off duty, I will pass gas stations just to get to the ones with the kids changing tables in the stalls only to remember I am off duty and don't have my duty gear on.

  • When speaking to a person, I turn my strong side away from them and stay at least an arms-length from them.

  • Before I enter a store or restaurant, I scan the place as best I can before going in. Once in, I look for exits and cover vs concealment. I then check out everyone in the store to observe body language that could indicate potential robbery and theft suspects.

  • I scan a room before entering to the point where others say, "What are you waiting for?"

  • Having a conversation with someone and only making eye contact after I have found every exit in a room.

  • I catch myself trying to lay my forearm on top of my duty weapon while in a crowded area off duty.
  • I keep locking my keys in my car that still uses a key because I am used to having a fob in my pocket.
  • When turning the dome light on in my personal car, I reach for the switch on the side of the circle in the squad, only to realize it isn’t there.
  • While stopped at a red light I leave enough distance between my vehicle and one in front of me so I’m not boxed in. Never know when a hot call comes and you're stuck!
  • Always backing into a parking space.
  • Reaching for the mic to go 10-7 when in my personal vehicle and getting home.
  • I still watch in the rearview mirror for cars following me from where I started driving. If I see a suspicious car, I will pull into a housing tract and dust myself off.
  • If I am a passenger in a vehicle, I can't help but notice every traffic violation the driver commits. Sometimes I will say something to the driver, but mostly I bite my lip and keep it to myself.
  • Always looking to see who is next to me at a traffic light and not stopping door to door with the car next to me. Also, tactical parking with an area to always be able to get my car out without being boxed in.
  • Even after being off the job for 10 years, I have to admit that If I'm standing next to a vehicle, I still check the registrations and inspection stickers and, if expired, I might even bring it to the driver's attention. And in case you were wondering, no one has ever not appreciated it! LOL, hey what can I say, I'm retired, not dead.😝

  • I am always scanning up in the trees when I walk at night. I had a bat dive bomb me while I was on bike patrol at night. It scared the crap out of me!

  • Some days when I’m off I’ll still hear triple beeps or dispatch saying my call sign. It’s faint but enough to make me tilt my head down to get a better listen even though I don’t have my radio.

  • I still use "5150" and some radio codes, either in my mind or aloud, which gets me puzzled looks.

  • I reach for the radar remote control when a vehicle is approaching me and I realize I’m off duty and don’t have a radar in my personal vehicle.

  • Been retired 13 yrs now after 36 yrs service. Before entering a store, always scan inside the store to see who's where and what they're doing.

  • I still choose shirts and jackets based on how well they conceal my gun. Even though 40 years of carrying on my right hip has played hell with my sciatica, I feel lazy and irresponsible if I leave the house unarmed.

  • I mentally correct the spelling and syntax of every article or post I read.

  • Now retired, but after 25 years of 2nd and 3rd shift, I cannot change my sleep pattern back to normal. I'm getting better and have been going to bed about 0300-0400. My family can't stand me using military time on all my clocks and I had the hardest time not signing my name with D/S in front of it.

  • Checking the odometer in my personal vehicle when I stop for gas.

  • Occasionally, if the TV or radio volume is too low or I missed what was said, I lean my head to my left shoulder to get closer to the mic that is not there and reach to my left hip for the volume button that is not there.

  • 1) I still look for valid license plates. 2) I make eye contact with everybody entering the room. 3) I never go anywhere unarmed.

  • Always looking toward my center dash to read the radar detector for the oncoming vehicle that I know is speeding way over the limit.

  • Always watching people and their hands and clothing for abnormal bulges. Stopping far enough back of another car in case I get hit in the rear or need to get out suddenly. Keeping my head on a swivel at all times. Sitting with my back to the wall and watching people all the time. This comes from 32 years in the Baltimore City Police Department.

  • Always checking to see if my back-up weapon is still on my ankle. Stand with my back to my car when fueling at a gas station.

  • Still sleep with a notepad and pen on my nightstand even though since I’ve been retired for two years, I’m not on standby anymore.

  • Among several already mentioned, after 27 years on the job, I can’t remember the last time I used a urinal in a public restroom. Always a stall with the door shut and locked. LOL!

  • Been retired for 43 years and when looking at a photograph of me, I realize that both arms are extended outward as clearances for Sam Brown, a service weapon and all the paraphernalia around my waist.

  • Always turning abruptly towards any noise disturbance (tires screeching, people yelling). Being insanely aware of anyone walking past the perimeter of the house when off duty at home. Phone, wallet, keys, badge all have their designated pants pocket and never go in any other pocket. Tapping my chest twice (to activate camera) before speaking with someone. Checking ankles for electronic monitoring devices. Checking out drivers/vehicles for offenses and defective vehicles. Always heading straight to the energy drink fridge at a fuel station after fuelling up. Remembering businesses, street names and cross streets for referencing location just in case.

  • I'm always scanning traffic ahead for the best route to get around all the cars in my way. I also look for traffic violations everywhere I go (16 of my 38 years were on a motor...it's embedded in my DNA now).

  • All of the above, plus the annoying habit of driving past every police interaction with my hand outstretched asking "Code 4?" to the police officer who was only a child when I retired. They must think, "Who is this crazy old man?"

  • Still trying to train my wife to say “clear right.”

  • I still look for front license plates and valid inspection stickers as I drive. My head is always on a swivel, I watch everyone and where their hands are. And when I enter through doors, no matter where I am, I always clear left and right.

  • As a "recovering" dispatcher, some things have never left my brain. Phonetics, 10-codes, habits you pick up from your officers (back to the wall, stand at an angle with gun hip away from people). Say negative more often than No. Signal 8 or disregard instead of never mind.

  • Corrections deputy: Get on elevators last and then stand at the door facing everyone else.

  • Use mental rehearsal in almost every situation, even at home, especially when driving, or in public places. "what if, do next" etc. When there is no time to think, we do what we have practiced.

  • After being in SOD K9, I find it totally unnatural to drive a car without a dog in the back seat. Drives my dachshund crazy.

  • All of the above and sprained a finger reaching for the non-existent mic to check warrant status on a con I knew when I saw him walking on a street. Was off duty and in my POV. And, after years in retirement, still checking businesses when driving – still mentally in patrol mode.

  • While out driving with my grandkids, I am constantly pointing out traffic violations and suspicious people. Now they are pointing out things to me and saying they sure wish I had red lights and a ticket book.

  • When I approach an intersection and the light turns yellow, I reach down to turn the lights on to go through.

  • I still wait a couple of seconds after a light signal turns green in case someone runs the red light.

  • Always stop with room in front and never door to door with other vehicles. Then playing the game of what a “personalized” plate is supposed to read. Some are quite unusual.

  • When in my personal vehicle and searching for an address on a house, I reach for the alley light switch (that is not there) to try and turn on the light to see better.

  • When having lunch or dinner with my older brother at a restaurant there is always a competition as to who gets the seat facing the door or cash register. We are both retired law enforcement, me 44 years and my brother 30 years. He is now 78 years old and I am 5 years younger. I carry a Glock 40 cal, an extra magazine, plus pepper spray and he carries a 5-shot 38 revolver. Why do we always have to have this discussion before we sit down?

  • I always sit facing the main entrance of a restaurant. I’ve also noticed that while off duty if I think a vehicle is speeding I’ll reach to hit my radar or I’ll check my mirrors when the car passes for any defective equipment or operation.

  • I always sit facing the doors and never with my back to a window. Constantly check license plates to see if they are expired or if something doesn't look right. I still don't carry anything in my right hand (I still carry either in my pocket or on my waist). Never stop close to the vehicle in front of me. Well, pretty much everything already mentioned with the exception of the dog in the back seat. I've been retired since 1995.

  • I still check rooftops as I walk past tall buildings. I stand with my back to the walls and my hand over my firearm when I’m in an elevator or a crowded place, combat park my private vehicle, and check for my wallet, keys and firearm every time I enter and exit a vehicle. When I go out to eat, I sit with my back to the wall and face the entrance. If I’m speaking in public I’m always looking to see if anyone is listening or filming. I am very careful what I post on social media. I always keep my private vehicle with no less than a 1/2 tank of gas. I’m always watching people’s expressions and body language. Twenty-four years with the NYPD and I miss the clowns but definitely not the circus.

  • Whenever I stop at a light behind someone I leave room to move, and look around for areas to move through. I can catch a nap anywhere, anytime in any place – the effect of 24 yrs on a three-shift rotation. And I can wake at an instant to full awareness for the same reason.

  • Clear and concise writing. Yes, I know that’s not a sentence.

  • Years ago sitting in a restaurant in NYC Chinatown, a man came in yelling, screaming and threatening the owner several times. This was very unusual for Chinatown. When he yelled I’ll be right back I told my friends if he comes back in I’m going to bang the top of the table and we hit the floor. He came back in, we hit the floor, he had a machete in his hand, the staff jumped him. I was retired about 10 years then, no gun. I would do it again, bang the table and hit the floor, pulling a chair in front of you.

  • Still using military time and using the 05Jan23 date designator.

  • ALWAYS carry a Derringer, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Washing my hands before and after using the restroom.

  • When speaking to someone's face, I can’t help noting the state of their pupils, lips, tongue, teeth and skin, breath, coordination, or lack of coordination. 

  • Checking for any gang-related tattoos, looking for any abnormal bulge in clothing, keeping at least an arm's length from anybody.

  • Every time I ring a doorbell or knock at a friend's house I step offline to the door to get out of the fatal funnel. They look at me like I'm crazy.

  • Just retired after 40 years on the street in SoCal. Funny habits: 1. After years as a K9 handler and instructor I still give commands to any dog in Dutch. Most dogs look at me like I’m nuts. 2. My horse was taught all his commands in Dutch. 3. I always check exits at hotels or businesses I go to. When I was a baby cop I was told that it’s good to know how to get into a place but it’s also good to know how to get out if you have to. My GF tolerates it. 4. Sometimes I catch myself talking in radio code. The people who don’t know what I did just look at me like I’m from another planet. 5. Apparently I have a “look.” Not sure what that means but my family tells me then when I give people “the look” those recipients of the look tend to not hang around. Even now in retirement.

  • Reaching to hit the “on scene” button on the cruiser MDT whenever I was in a hurry trying to park while off duty.

  • Been retired 14 years after 30 years of service 17 in narcotics. When walking into a blind corner, I stop, crouch and look first before walking around the corner. I never round the corner at my actual height. Sometimes I find myself pieing corners. I never carry anything in my right hand being a right-hander. I can still pick out a parolee in a crowd.

  • When I drive my personal car, I'll crack open my front windows to hear better what's happening around me as I do on patrol. I always reverse to park my car. When I visit my parents and go to the grocery store with them for example, I like pointing out stuff that people do like "look this guy is trying to leave without paying or look this one is buying the gold Listerine bottle or a big bottle of hand sanitizer but it's not for their mouth or their hands." My mom's face is priceless after that.

  • All the above PLUS being also in ham radio and grabbing for a mic to run a plate, etc. I did that once shortly after retirement, my old partner also a ham ran it on his MDT. Bingo – stolen. Local agency laughed!

  • I put red bulbs in my dome lights to protect my night vision.

  • My husband is retired fire/police. I worked fire. We still clear each other right. We now switch off whose back is to the door (that took YEARS). Heads on a swivel, it never leaves. Ever!

  • Retired over 2 years now after 30 years as a police/fire/ems dispatcher and volunteer paramedic/firefighter for almost 25 years. My husband is retired after 21 years in the military. We both still use phonetics when we need to spell anything. The phonetics I used as a dispatcher were different than in the fire department, but I can interchange them depending on who I'm talking to. We both stand off to the side when knocking on someone's door. When we first started dating we had a hard time deciding who was going to sit with their back to the wall facing the entrance when we'd go out to eat. I leave plenty of distance between my car and the one in front of me at a traffic light, in case I get a call and need to get out of traffic in a medic unit. I still look at vehicle tags in front of me while driving or sitting at traffic lights. When I enter a room with a door that opens in and it's open, I push on the door to make sure no one is hiding behind it. When passing an officer on the side of the road during a traffic stop I slow down and make sure the officer is OK. I've been to too many LODD funerals for officers who were ambushed and shot in their patrol cars. I still say "direct" instead of OK or I understand and "correct/negative" instead of yes or no. I trained my Cane Corso commands in German. I still find myself describing the sides of any building as alpha, bravo, charlie, delta sides instead of front, back, right/left side. All my clocks/watches are set to military time, and any non-digital watches I have to have a sweeping second hand. I've gotten some strange looks from people when I ask to look at any watches and say they have to have a second hand. It's amazing how many habits I picked up doing ride-alongs with friends who were officers and working with officers as a dispatcher and in the fire department and the habits they have rubbed off on me. Even in retirement, I can still spot an off-duty police officer or military by the way they stand.

  • Having lunch with wife in a small out-of-town diner. Recognize a recently released from prison shooter walk in and approach the register. Immediately made contact very softly calling his name and telling him to not get stupid. He looked and recognized me saying he was only picking up an order to go. He did and left. Notified the locals.

  • Been retired 20 years and still tuck my POV keys in my belt.

  • I’ll be off duty and have to try and remember to stop myself as I drive past an on-duty officer and wave. Also turning on the wipers in my personal car is different in the cruiser. I always go to turn them on the wrong way!

  • Closing one eye before entering a much darker interior space after coming from a brighter outdoor space.

  • Reaching for a pen at my chest pocket.

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This article, published on 04/18/2013, has been updated.


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