What your department’s off duty/concealed carry training program should include

Agencies must provide their officers with the training they need to be just as competent with their firearm off duty as they are on duty


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Among the many aspects of law enforcement responsibilities not typically covered in a basic police academy is off-duty and plainclothes firearms carry. This topic is critical and should be addressed by a police department’s training staff.

Here are some essential components of an off-duty and concealed carry training program:

Legal Review

Most basic law enforcement academies do not cover off-duty and back-up gun training, which leaves the individual department to offer the training. (Photo/Warren Wilson)
Most basic law enforcement academies do not cover off-duty and back-up gun training, which leaves the individual department to offer the training. (Photo/Warren Wilson)

What are the laws in your state that allow officers to carry a firearm off duty? What are the limitations? Is your program current?

The Self Defense Act (license to carry law for citizens) was passed in my state in the mid-1990s. The statute regarding peace officers’ authorization to carry had been in place for decades at that point. Since then, both laws have changed several times. At one point, license holders could carry openly while peace officers could only do so in uniform. For one year, off-duty peace officers were held to the same restrictions as licensees. That part of the law was reversed in the next legislative session. The point is that not only must legal considerations be part of your off-duty and concealed carry program, but that information must also be updated regularly.

Another consideration is what to teach your officers to do if they come across a crime in progress when they’re not on the clock.

My state requires off-duty officers to act when encountering a serious situation that endangers life or property. That action can be anything from calling 911 to physical intervention depending on the severity and immediacy of the event. Every state is different, and you must be certain any legal information provided to your officers is correct.

Consider involving your jurisdiction’s legal division in your training program.

LEOSA Considerations

Knowing the specifics of your particular state laws that affect officers carrying firearms off duty is a great start, but you must also consider the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act (LEOSA). This act exempts off-duty and retired cops from some, but not all, state laws regarding cops carrying guns when not on active duty. For example, government entities are still allowed to restrict firearms on state, county and municipal property. LEOSA also does not exempt cops from firearms prohibitions on federal property and public schools unless the officer is acting within the scope of their official duties.

LEOSA still requires that an officer successfully qualifies on their respective department’s course with the type of firearm intended to be carried. This qualification must be repeated annually.

The best guidance I’ve seen on what “type” means under this law is revolvers and semiautomatics, but that was an attorney’s opinion and has no legal bearing. It may be advisable to qualify with each firearm intended to be carried.

Keep in mind that LEOSA exemptions are lost to officers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or are under disciplinary action.

For more information on LEOSA, check out PoliceOne’s LEOSA topic page.

Quality leather and Kydex gear are more accessible and affordable than ever. (Photo/Warren Wilson)
Quality leather and Kydex gear are more accessible and affordable than ever. (Photo/Warren Wilson)

License to Carry

Most cops don’t bother obtaining a license to carry a handgun since their certification and commission as law enforcement officers give them that lawful ability. Having a handgun license can have its advantages, though.

As I touched upon above, LEOSA does not provide a law enforcement exemption for carrying a firearm in schools unless “acting in his or her official capacity” under the Gun-Free Schools Act codified in Title 18 USC Section 922. However, that same statute makes an exception if “the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located or a political subdivision of the State.” As with any online legal advice, do your homework.

In most jurisdictions, officers can only carry a pistol with which they have qualified. Handgun licensees rarely face that restriction although they are also rarely allowed to carry everywhere that peace officers can. In my home state, for example, being qualified with any semiautomatic pistol entitles a license holder to carry almost anything they choose. That said, having a carry license may also be a disadvantage to a cop. At least one state’s attorney general offered the opinion that officers who are licensed to carry as non-sworn personnel relinquish some of the carry privileges afforded to them as law enforcement officers. Here again, we must do our homework. 

Department Policy

Any class that addresses off-duty carry considerations must include your department’s respective policies on the topic.

In most jurisdictions, policy and law governing off-duty carry are intertwined. For example, in my state, law enforcement officers can only carry firearms off-duty that are “approved” by their department. What “approved” means is largely up to the agency.

In my department, officers are required to pass a specific off-duty/backup gun course that is based on the state’s plainclothes officer qualification. We modified it to a lower round count but kept the same distances and minimum standard of 70%. Of course, this is the same standard required for passing the off-duty/concealed carry course.

Off-duty and back-up gun courses of fire may simply be an abbreviated version of a duty pistol course of fire to accommodate lower-capacity firearms. (Photo/Warren Wilson)
Off-duty and back-up gun courses of fire may simply be an abbreviated version of a duty pistol course of fire to accommodate lower-capacity firearms. (Photo/Warren Wilson)

Holster Selection

Uniformed patrol officers give little thought to purchasing high-quality retention holsters for their duty pistols that cost upwards of $200. Many of those same folks find it perfectly acceptable to spend only a few sawbucks on their plainclothes or off-duty rig.

We live in the golden age of concealed carry equipment. The internet is overrun with quality holsters for non-uniformed carry that only cost around $60. Why not drop a few more Jeffersons and get something that fulfills what many firearms instructors (including myself) believe are three essential elements? This list was shamelessly stolen from self-defense instructor Kathy Jackson at Cornered Cat:

  1. Does the holster effectively cover the trigger guard? Perfect trigger finger discipline is irrelevant if clothing or some other material finds its way into the trigger guard of your pistol while holstered. At the same time, the holster must allow for a full firing grip on the gun. If your gear does both of these things, it has met the first element.
  2. Does the holster hold the firearm securely? Acrobatic dancing is inadvisable for a lot of reasons while carrying a firearm (the omnipresence of the cell phone video being one of them), but a good holster will retain a pistol during the most vigorous of activities until it is intentionally drawn.
  3. Does the holster allow the gun to be reliably and repeatably accessible? Poor quality holsters will allow the gun to rock in all directions and will not be where the carrier reaches for it. This also goes to the holster’s ability to conceal the firearm. I would add that a holster must have a rigid mouth that allows for one-handed holstering. In other words, the support hand should never be required to assist in putting the gun away. That action puts important stuff (digits) near or in front of the muzzle, which is obviously unsafe.
To be considered for concealed carry, a holster must completely cover the trigger while still allowing for a full firing grip on the draw. (Photo/Warren Wilson)
To be considered for concealed carry, a holster must completely cover the trigger while still allowing for a full firing grip on the draw. (Photo/Warren Wilson)

Holstering Techniques

The single most important difference between uniform gear and off-duty/plainclothes gear is the method of holstering.

We train our new cops to holster quickly and without looking, so they can do so in the field during a de-escalation of force and still keep their attention on the threat. That is easy enough to do with a duty holster. They’re built with large mouths and they jut away from the body. The same is not true for concealment holsters.

Off-duty holsters are by nature worn very close to the body with clothing that could conceivably work its way into the trigger guard. Therefore, we do not allow the user to blindly slam the handgun home when they are using plainclothes holsters. We must accept that this equipment is different and requires different methods to safely put the gun away.

“Think about how bad that would hurt!” is the primer I use before giving the first command to holster during the live-fire portion of the class. I stress the importance of slowly and deliberately holstering with concealment gear. It’s a good idea to require students to look the gun into the holster when conducting this type of course. I know there will be a violent and collective gasp when some police firearms instructors read those last two sentences, but I stand by them.  

Beyond the Basics

Our officers spend less than one-quarter of their lives at work. They are responsible for their firearm 100% of the time. Give them the training they need to be just as competent with their firearm off duty as they are on duty. Remember, firearms training only begins at the basic police academy. Firearms knowledge and skill is too important to leave at that basic level.          

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