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4 key considerations for off-duty carry

The topic of off-duty carry is too big an issue to ignore, especially when it is so starkly presented in the news headlines of the day


An off-duty Philadelphia Police Officer was shot Friday while he shielded his son from gunfire. Angelo Romero and his two-year-old son were caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between a two rival groups of suspects aged between 15- and 18-years-old. Romero was shot in the hand. His son was not injured. Romero is recovering and is expected to be OK.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross later said, “He was just so, so lucky.” 

At the time of the incident, Romero was unarmed. This fact raises once again the never-ending discussion about off-duty carry. What follows is in no way a criticism of Romero, whose actions that afternoon were truly heroic. But the topic of off-duty carry is too big an issue to ignore, especially when it is so starkly presented in the news headlines of the day. News like Officer Romero’s bravery last week creates an opportunity to revisit training and other consideration for off-duty carry. Here are four things to think about.

PoliceOne Editor-at-Large Doug Wyllie dumps an empty magazine and reaches to reload during a drill to simulate responding to a sudden ambush attack in a restaurant or some other place where you'd be seated.  (PoliceOne Image)
PoliceOne Editor-at-Large Doug Wyllie dumps an empty magazine and reaches to reload during a drill to simulate responding to a sudden ambush attack in a restaurant or some other place where you'd be seated. (PoliceOne Image)

1. Choosing your equipment
An off-duty gun is like a parachute. When you need it, you really, really need it, and nothing else will do. Like a parachute, you want to be sure that you’re packing the best possible equipment. 

In an ideal world, you will be permitted to carry your duty weapon while off-duty, but we do not live in an ideal world. For many officers, their off-duty gun ends up being a different model, if not even a wholly different manufacturer than their on-duty rig. 

The good news is that smaller and more-concealable versions of existing duty guns have recently come to the market. The Glock 43 and the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield are both excellent single-stack 9mm auto pistols with mechanics that mirror their bigger brothers which sit on the hips of hundreds of thousands of American police officers. 

Make a very deliberate decision about location of carry (appendix, hip, ankle) and be sure you select the best possible holster for you. There are countless good options in both leather and Kydex. I’m not a fan of pocket carry (for a host of reasons), but if that’s your selection, an absolute must is getting a pocket holster from Sticky

You can elect to add a laser-grip from Crimson Trace, or upgrade your sights to a high-visibility option such as is available from HIVIZ Shooting Systems. Both options can lead to better performance.

Be sure to spend top-dollar for the best possible ammo — cheap ammo is for plinking — and purchase a couple of spare magazines and mag pouches. 

Remember that the easiest element in off-duty carry is the shopping trip to your local firearms dealer. 

Things only get much, much more difficult from there — starting with training.

2. Committing to training
Simply carrying a gun off-duty is not enough — one must vigorously train to use it safely and effectively. This means putting hundreds — perhaps thousands — of rounds downrange, and doing so on regular and ongoing basis. 

Bring your new off-duty set-up to the company range — assuming that’s within policy, of course — and get busy. Your marksmanship training may begin with the “dot-torture” drill or some other high-intensity accuracy drill. Move on to the “who’s your buddy” drill or some other hostage-shot exercise. 

Practice drawing and moving to cover simultaneously. Practice drawing and shooting from a seated position — as if at a restaurant. Practice your verbalization skills. 

Whenever possible, train with a buddy — so much the better if your buddy is a firearms instructor — because having someone present to observe and critique your work is very valuable. You may even elect to attend private training from a certified instructor who specializes in CCW tactics. Be sure to do your homework on the school and the instructor — there are some snake oil salesmen out there. 

When you are at home, practice dry-fire manipulations and everything else that goes into running your gun at the highest possible level. Do your mental preparation with scenario visualizations and when/then thinking. 

Remember to include your family in your training. They don’t necessarily have to go to the range with you — although that is also an option to consider in the event that you go down in the fight and they have to defend themselves. Develop a language between you and your spouse and you and your kids so when you suddenly yell ‘Get behind me!’ or ‘Get away from me!’ they instantly know what to do. 

Train your family to immediately call 911 in the event of an off-duty shooting. They should be able to calmly but quickly describe your appearance, your location and your firearm. 

Remember, when the time to preform arrives, the time to prepare has passed. 

3. Picking your battles
Sometimes, the battle picks you, and armed response is the only way to reasonably believe that survival of yourself or an innocent victim is possible. Recall that when 43-year-old Traci Johnson was about to be beheaded at a Vaughan Foods processing plant in 2014, the company’s chief operating officer — an off-duty Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Deputy named Mark Vaughan — shot and killed the attacker, saving Johnson’s life. 

However, there are cases in which you are at such a tactical disadvantage that an armed response actually puts you in more danger than other options — most notably, seeking cover. 

Remember that in Philadelphia on Friday, Romero was not the intended target — he and his son simply were caught in a lousy place at a lousy time. Had he been packing, and had he started uncorking rounds at the two warring groups, he and his son could well have become bullet magnets — not a good situation when you’re outnumbered and carrying little more than a single-stack 9mm or a six-shot .38 revolver. 

Moving away from the fray and seeking solid cover is a viable option that simply must not be forgotten when you find yourself heavily outnumbered or outgunned. 

Further, consider the fact that there are instances when an off-duty officer’s best course of action is to make the best possible witness for investigators. For a sheepdog, this can be a very difficult thing to do, because sheepdogs are creatures of action, not passivity. But getting into an off-duty beef can be a one-way ticket to another career, or a civil lawsuit, or both. 

This reminds me, one of the most important things to have in your pocket in the event of an off-duty shooting is the name and telephone number of a good attorney. This is a relationship that has to be established when you first make the decision to carry off duty. Have this programed into your contacts list on your phone. 

4. Welcoming the cavalry
If you’re off-duty and you get into a shooting, as soon as the gunfire ends, you should prepare to immediately comply with commands of arriving uniformed officers. When the threat has been neutralized, reholstering the gun or even setting it on the ground is a good way to prevent a tragic blue-on-blue situation when the good guys get to the scene. 

Once the uniforms get there, they run the show and you do your best imitation of a compliant citizen. Put yourself in the shoes of those arriving uniforms. Would you want a guy in plain clothes waving a badge and a gun around at a “shots fired” scene? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

Stay safe out there my friends.

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