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‘When I think about how close I came to leaving my gun behind, it scares me.’

An officer recounts the off-duty, plainclothes survival tips he learned after coming across an armed robbery


Photo/Warren Wilson

This article is reprinted with permission from Calibre Press

After finding himself unexpectedly engaged in an off-duty armed encounter, a California officer shared with Calibre Press some of the important lessons he learned after reviewing the incident. Share your off-duty safety and survival tips below.

Here’s what he wrote:

I volunteered to help with a Bingo fundraiser at the school where my wife teaches. As I went off-duty and changed into civilian clothes, I thought about not wearing my off-duty gun. I carry a full-size .40-cal. in a fanny pack holster. This was a school function and I expected retired folks, kids and parents…probably nobody threatening. But I made the decision to wear my gun anyway. Good thing I did! I learned some very important off-duty, plainclothes survival tips that day!

Lesson 1: Always carry off-duty

I was running early for the event, so I went to a local restaurant nearby. I parked my car about 30 feet from the main doors. As I walked over, I noticed there were no other cars parked in the lot, which seemed strange because the restaurant was normally busy with patrons.

I opened the front door and noticed there was only one customer; a man wearing all black, including a black watch cap pulled over the top of his eyes. He was reaching over the counter and grabbing for something. An older couple on the other side didn’t seem to want to give it up. The suspect spun toward me when he heard me open the door. I could see a small silver semiauto in his right hand pointed toward the ceiling.

I was still on the threshold of the door, so I backed out and let the door close behind me. After about a second or two, the suspect ran out the front door about three feet from me. Sometime during my retreat out the door, I drew my off-duty gun and when I saw he was still holding the semiauto as he came out the door, I aimed for his head.

Lesson 2: Keep your survival mindset intact, even off-duty

I remember thinking his gun looked like a .22-cal. I told myself I could take a hit from a .22 before firing my .40-cal. rounds. I never let myself think his gun was going to kill me. I knew I was going to survive and stop his threatening action.

LESSON 3: Always carry a restraining device off-duty

With my gun leveled, I identified myself as a police officer and told him to drop his weapon. He noticed my gun was bigger than his and he complied. I took his gun and ordered him to prone out and put his arms out, away from his sides.

Now what? I wasn’t carrying any form of restraints. I held him down and kept my gun trained on him, but decided that if he started to resist, I was going to get off him and let him run unless he posed a deadly threat.

LESSON 4: Always use common law enforcement terms that other officers are sure to understand

An 18-year-old kid ran over to me and asked if he could help. I told him to call 911 and tell them I was an off-duty officer who needed “Code 3 fills.” I had to correct myself and use the word “backup.” In my county, we use the word “fill” for a backup officer. I think we’re the only county to use this. Had the kid called the jurisdiction I was in and asked for “fills,” the dispatcher may not have known what he was talking about.

LESSON 5: Avoid tunnel vision

As I held the suspect down, I remembered to scan the area for accomplices and to be prepared to deal with them.

LESSON 6: Cooperate with local police arriving at the scene. You are a threat until proven otherwise.

I had the kid tell the dispatcher what I was wearing so the arriving uniformed officers would know I was a cop and avoid shooting me. When the first officer arrived, I got off the suspect, placed my gun on the ground and got into a kneeling position with my hands behind my back, ready to be cuffed. I knew I would probably be hooked up until my identity could be proven.

LESSON 7: Carry your law enforcement ID

More cops arrived and one of them searched me looking for my badge or ID card. I didn’t have my badge, but I did have my ID. It proved who I was, and I was home free.

I now wear my fanny pack holster everywhere. It carries my gun, law enforcement ID card, flex cuffs and OC spray. Whenever I hear a fellow officer say they do not carry this stuff off duty, I tell them this story.

When I think about how close I came to leaving my gun behind, it scares me. If I didn’t have it that day, I’m sure I would have been shot. Remember to carry the right equipment and maintain the appropriate mindset to stay safe both on and off duty!

Police1 Readers Respond

I always carry my Glock 48 9mm with an additional mag giving me 21 total rounds, 11 in the weapon and a 10 round additional mag (off duty, concealed on the same side I carry my duty weapon because under stress, that is where my hand is going to automatically go looking). I carry my Glock 21 45 ACP if I know I am going into a high crime area. I also always have my badge next to my weapon. I know statistically you should wear your badge around your neck for easier identification (responding officers will be looking chest level for a possible center mass hit if deemed needed), however, it is too heavy and cumbersome to wear there. I also carry cuffs, a knife and an LED flashlight, plus my PD ID as well. I once pursued a purse snatcher off duty and he ran into the dark behind the business, the flashlight was a lifesaver. I also was glad to have the cuffs for obvious reasons. Of course, I have my cell phone for communications. If you do not have those additional tools you are a little different from a concealed carry individual. As the article states, be prepared to be challenged, and comply with the responding officer’s commands/instructions until they can verify who you are including going face down and being cuffed. I have been criticized for carrying the additional equipment by other officers, but you don’t need those items until you do.

Police1 readers respond

  • After just under 26 years it was time to retire. I unloaded, cleaned and stored my .380 and it truly felt like a relief. Three days later my wife (a nurse) and I stumbled into a man repeatedly stabbing his girlfriend in a parking lot – I’ve got no pistol, PR-24, or another weapon with me - plus my wife is in the car. Fortunately, when the man heard sirens he ran into a building; the wife and I did first-aid on the girl (30+ stab wounds, she survived). When I got home the .380 was reloaded and has never left my body since, along with my badge and ID in a separate case (like before) and an extra magazine. The PR-24 and flex cuffs are back in the car. I never lost the situational awareness that I’d learned but practiced it religiously.

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