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5 off-duty safety rules every cop should follow

Criminals who prey on society work 24/7, so maintaining situational awareness is always important for police officers


Train with your off-duty weapon just like you train with your on-duty weapon.


While on duty, police officers are in a constant state of readiness (or they should be), but when off duty, with family and friends, it is easy to drop your guard. But criminals who prey on society work 24/7, so maintaining situational awareness is always important.

Follow these five rules to ensure your safety when off duty.

1. Always be armed.

Never leave your home without your firearm. If you carry your badge and ID, you must carry your weapon.

Always carry additional loading devises, magazines or speed loaders. Carry your firearm in the same place, so you will reach for it without thinking about its location on your person.

It is a good idea to carry handcuffs, as you may need to control a suspect while you wait for help to come.

It would also be ideal to have a portable light source such as a flashlight or weapon-mounted light. Taking action means being able to clearly identify the situation and the threat; having a light could be critical for the proceeding investigation that will follow.

2. Don’t show your cards.

I tell officers to carry two wallets: one for your police ID and badge and the other for your personal identification, credit cards and money. There is no need to open your wallet and display your badge.

Refrain from wearing any items that link you to law enforcement or having any LEO decals on your personal vehicle.

3. Make a plan.

Instruct your family on what to do if you are forced into action. Knowing they are out of harm’s way allows you to concentrate on the task at hand. They need to distance themselves from you and contact 911.

Agree on a phrase that alerts your family you are about to take action. Rehearse your response. Remind your family of the phrase, the action you need them to do, and what you are going to do based on the circumstances.

Understand that it might be better to act as a witness rather than intervene. You are by yourself without a radio, no uniform to identify yourself, you might not see the entire situation and, when seconds count, your backups are minutes away.

4. Prepare for the possibility of being a victim.

You have a legal right and obligation to be armed. If a criminal picks you for their prey, too bad for them. The moment your mind acknowledges the danger, you must respond correctly. If you are not armed, you might find yourself taking partial action without the needed equipment.

5. Train with your off-duty weapon.

Train with your off-duty weapon just like you train with your on-duty weapon. Speed is fine, but accuracy is final. Train to draw and fire from various positions while wearing non-uniform clothing.

The ability to survive is a perishable skill that needs constant training to remain second nature. Off duty, you deal with action vs. reaction with a good chance that you will be the one reacting. You might not have the luxury of time. Action must be spontaneous, within policy and all without stopping to think.

While all the above is taking place, be aware you are not wearing your vest.

The key to survival is to have the proper mindset, be aware of your surroundings, always train, have a plan, and know what you can and cannot do legally. Once the situation unfolds, you must do something. Indecision is fatal. Take action or mentally record the event. Either way, you must switch to the on-duty mindset. Be safe out there.

Marty Katz is a retired sergeant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During his 34-year career, his assignments included field training officer, SWAT team member, undercover narcotics detective, academy instructor street crime suppression unit and supervisor of Recruitment, Criminal investigations and Patrol. Marty is a Florida Department of Law Enforcement certified instructor (Firearms, Defensive Tactics, Driving, First Responder, Ethics and Human Diversity), Expert Witness for Use of Force issues, a member of ILEETA, and past Florida Chapter Director for the International Association of Ethics Trainers In addition, Marty has trained in Japan with the Tokyo Metropolitan Riot Police and is a martial arts instructor.

Marty is owner and chief instructor of Crimewave Solutions, a training company for officer survival and common sense self defense. His first book, Past the Uniform, was published in 2008.

Contact Marty Katz