Staying Safe & Effective Off-Duty

By Calibre Press  |   Nov 23, 2020

The gear you carry, how you carry it, how you think and the actions you take off-duty can seriously impact your safety, your tactical effectiveness and your legal protection if you’re forced to engage in an armed encounter. In this first installment of a two-part series, we share some things to consider, highlighted during a gathering of trainers from across the country.

1. Maintain your survival mindset.

Before you go on duty you perform a ritual that gets you into a survival mind-set. You put on your uniform, check your vest, check your gun, check your ammo and reaffirm your commitment to returning home safely after your shift. But many officers are in the dangerous habit of turning off their survival mind-set the minute they take off their uniform. The badge comes off and they slip into Condition White. If you’re forced to engage in an off-duty confrontation, you want the power of that survival mind-set to be readily available to help you overcome any threat. Don’t turn it off.

2. Carry the appropriate firearm.

Most officers carry an off-duty firearm. Be sure it’s designed to deliver the level of stopping power you need—like your duty weapon is—in case you must cease a threat in an armed encounter.

3. Carry your firearm in a familiar location.

Through practice you have developed muscle memory that allows you to draw your duty weapon instinctively. Your mind knows where to direct your hand and what to have it do to access your gun quickly. What about off duty? Do you carry your firearm in a location that isn’t programmed into muscle memory—like in an ankle holster or a shoulder holster? This could be a mistake in a high stress off-duty encounter. Your muscle memory will kick in and you will instinctively reach for a gun that’s not there, even if you think you will remember that you’re off duty and that your gun is in a different location.

If you must carry your gun in a location other than where you carry your service weapon, be sure to practice drawing and holstering from that location to develop additional muscle memory. A few tips on drawing from various locations:

Drawing from an ankle holster: Be sure to grab a handful of your pants leg with your reaction (non-gun) hand and pull up before your drop to one knee to access your gun. Once you’ve dropped, it can be more difficult to get your pants leg up far enough to clear your weapon.

Drawing from under a closed garment like a sweater or zippered jacket: Practice pulling the garment all the way up to your armpit with your reaction hand then drawing your gun. With practice, you’ll reduce the risk that during a high stress encounter you’ll draw before the clothing is fully clear of your holster and catch your gun in the fabric.

Drawing from inside a blazer or suit coat: If you carry your weapon on your strong side there are a number of ways to clear your coat from your holster using either your reaction hand or your gun hand. Among the possibilities: sweep your jacket away from your holster with your strong hand while reaching behind your back with your reaction hand, grabbing the jacket and holding it clear of your holster. If you carry your weapon cross draw on your reaction side, one possibility is to sweep your jacket away from your holster with your reaction hand while reaching across with your gun hand to draw. The main objective in either case is to completely clear your jacket from your holster to avoid an obstructed draw.

It’s advisable to carry some sort of restraining device off duty as we’ll explain below. If you carry a set of metal cuffs, carry them in the jacket pocket of your gun side. Their weight will make it easier to sweep the jacket back and keep it in place while you draw.

Never carry a gun in the small of your back. If you fall on it during a physical confrontation, you can injure your spine and seriously inhibit your ability to defend yourself. Also, a gun carried in the small of your back is difficult to retain against an offender intent on disarming you. The weapon’s location inhibits you from effectively using your hands and arms to protect it.

4. Carry a restraining device.

Attorneys may look to attack officers who engage in an armed off-duty encounter without possessing some sort of restraining device. Consider this potential line of questioning:

Atty: You carry your badge and gun off duty, correct?

Ofc: Yes.

Atty: Why?

Ofc: Because they are the tools of my trade and I may need them should I be forced to engage in an off-duty confrontation.

Atty: Do you carry handcuffs off duty?

Ofc: No.

Atty: Why not?

Ofc: Because I’m not out there to arrest anybody.

Atty: Oh. So, you’re just out there to shoot people?

Not something you want to hear if you’re on the stand.

Without cuffs, your only restraining option may be to hold the suspect at gunpoint until uniformed officers arrive with cuffs. This opens you up to the temptation to close in on the suspect with your gun drawn and grab him to ensure that he doesn’t flee, which now puts you at risk for experiencing an accidental discharge or being disarmed while struggling with him.

5. Carry spare ammo.

If you engage in an off-duty gunfight, be prepared to reload if necessary while waiting for backup.

Read Part Two: More safety considerations, deciding whether to get involved, creating a family plan and some random but helpful tactical tips.

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Calibre Press

Calibre Press has 37 years in the business of keeping officers safer, smarter and more successful, from rookie to retirement.