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Off-duty carry: Warriors in guardian clothing

The public needs to understand the benefit of having armed off-duty and qualified retired LEOs around whenever possible


Remember that a firearm carried on your waist will allow you to employ the muscle memory and reflexes for drawing and weapon retention that you’ve been practicing for years.

Photo/Teknorat via WikiCommons

On November 27, 2017, an off-duty police officer at a Kansas Costco used deadly force to stop what may very well have been the beginning of an active assailant scenario.

Police Captain Michael Howell can be seen on surveillance video tactically approaching the suspect. This is expected of a trained and brave LEO fulfilling his oath of office even when off duty. What is also predictable is the number of people running away from the threat while the LEO runs toward it, prepared to protect the strangers around him.

How off-duty cops protect the public

Courts have recognized the role of LEOs in the protection of the public whether on or off duty.

We see this recognition in the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) passed in 2004 and amended in 2010 and 2013 to allow more LEOs to carry off duty throughout the United States and remove more barriers to that privilege.

So why are these stories buried in the news? Off-duty police officers intervene in crimes in progress often, but it is difficult if not impossible to find reliable statistics on the issue.

For instance, in 2007 an off-duty Ogden police officer sought out and confronted an active assailant in a mall. The cop was having dinner with his wife. The story received some coverage and can still be found online, but this and other events should be front and center on law enforcement social media pages.

The reason is simple: the public needs to understand the benefit of having armed off-duty and qualified retired LEOs around whenever possible.

When I sign copies of my book “Blue News,” I encourage LEOs to tell their stories. Following a use-of-force incident, it is important to get some information out to media sources as soon as you are able to do so. This can be done through your agency, the agency in the jurisdiction where the use of force occurred, or your attorney.

If you do not provide information, you will create what I call an “information vacuum.” If media sources begin focusing on the use of force, they will fill that vacuum. You will be far better off providing information that is factual than allowing the news cycle to become filled with speculation or lies told by people with an agenda.

Remember that social media posts are very powerful and free. A simple post on a department’s Facebook page can help end speculation about an officer-involved shooting.

Gordon Graham weighs in on best practices for law enforcement when interacting with armed citizens. Discover essential safety tips and expert insights to manage these encounters effectively.

Considerations for police when intervening while off duty

Of course there are considerations to taking action when off duty such as identifying yourself to civilians and security, dropping your weapon when challenged by responding on-duty LEOs and recognizing that you may not have assistance.

The attorney in me wants to remind you of a couple of other considerations:

  • Call an attorney to the scene if you use deadly force.
  • Write down the details of what happened, even if you are retired or outside your jurisdiction.
  • Finally, notify your agency as soon as you can to ensure they are aware of the situation before a journalist calls asking questions. I can assure you that your chief, sheriff and PIO will appreciate it.

Why we need rapid intervention by armed LEOs

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), a division of the United States Department of Justice, although active shooter and active assailant attacks are rare, they result in many fatalities and injuries in a short period of time.

Between 2000 and 2015, 44 percent occurred in areas of commerce that were both open and closed to the public, 23 percent occurred at schools including colleges and universities, and 11 percent occurred in open spaces like parking lots, public streets and parks.

Further, an FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents showed that in the 63 incidents with a clear timeline, nearly 70 percent ended in 5 minutes or less with many ending in less than 2 minutes. The need for rapid intervention by armed LEOs in warrior mode is clear and unequivocal.

The risk of ambush is real both on and off duty

We have also seen a trend of law enforcement officers increasingly being targeted for violence at their homes, while getting gas, and while eating both on and off duty. Given the current state of affairs, it is difficult to understand why any LEO would not carry a firearm off-duty. However, that is likely a personal choice.

The presence of a marked car at a LEO’s home has led to ambushes. I’ve spoken with many LEOs recently who have taken to parking take-home cars in a garage. Others park in a nearby public facility like a fire station. In extreme cases, some clients have turned down take-home cars.

While a simple 911 call can set up an on-duty ambush, off-duty LEOs are tougher targets. Maintaining situational awareness, looking for an out while sitting in traffic, and avoiding unnecessary stops between the precinct and home are all helpful tactics. If an attack occurs while off duty, the most important technique is to move. Attackers do not expect a victim to change positions and moving to cover while drawing a weapon can provide the edge needed to survive.

Practice drawing your off-duty firearm

In regard to off-duty carry, there are more holsters on the market than firearms. While you can conceal a weapon well with your holster of choice, you must practice drawing the weapon from that concealed position. Practice with an empty weapon and increase your speed until you are comfortable. At some point, you should practice on the range, beginning with the draw and ending with putting shots on target.

It is easy to conceal a firearm by adapting your clothing. A simple untucked shirt may allow you to carry a full-sized handgun. Remember that a firearm carried on your waist will allow you to employ the muscle memory and reflexes for drawing and weapon retention that you’ve been practicing for years. The more you can rely upon that experience, the safer and more effective you will be.

LEOs throughout the United States demonstrate their professionalism and dedication every hour of every day. Thousands protect the public when off the clock as well. When they are forced to intervene in a crime in progress, make no mistake – they will act as warriors, not guardians and, in turn, we are all safer.

Lance J. LoRusso, a former law enforcement officer turned attorney, has been a use of force instructor for nearly 30 years and has represented over 100 officers following officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. Lance also handles media response, catastrophic personal injury, tractor-trailer wrecks, and wrongful death cases. He is the author of “When Cops Kill: The Aftermath of a Critical Incident” and other books focused upon law enforcement and media relations. He is licensed to practice law in Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee. Learn more about Lance’s practice at