NJ shootings highlight danger faced when off duty
The recent off-duty police shootings show that officers not wearing a uniform and protective vests are at risk
ESSEX COUNTY, N.J. — The three Essex County law enforcement officers wounded in the last 12 days faced different situations when they were shot: one was driving to work, one was in a bar and the third was hit by friendly fire.
One detail, however, remained constant: All three were off-duty, highlighting the danger officers face while responding to threats when they are out of uniform and not carrying their radios or not wearing their bulletproof vests.
"All other things being equal, the fact that you’re not immediately recognizable as a police officer adds another layer of hazard," said Wayne Fisher, director of the Police Institute at Rutgers University. The number of police officers shot while off-duty remains low, officials said. In 2008, just three of 41 law enforcement officers killed nationwide were off-duty at the time, according to FBI statistics. Although the state tracks shootings involving police officers, it does not record whether the officer was on- or off-duty.
The three shootings involving the Essex County officers underscore a dilemma only off-duty officers face: should they wait for assistance when confronted by a dangerous situation or should they act on their own?