A comment by a plaintiff’s expert witness during the trial of a civil suit against a Rhode Island police department has led a private law enforcement training organization to conduct an informative survey regarding off-duty policies and practices.
The witness was testifying in a case in which an armed off-duty officer intervened in an altercation, was mistaken for a threatening suspect by responding uniformed officers and was shot dead by members of his own department.
The witness testified that departmental policies requiring officers to be “always armed and always on duty” are “antiquated” and are no longer in force in major agencies.
A poll subsequently conducted by the Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute, a division of the Public Agency Training Council based in Indianapolis, suggests that might not actually be the case.
In the Institute’s survey of more than 4,100 LEOs, 28 per cent said that their agency has a policy requiring officers to carry a firearm while off-duty. Policy or not, 73 per cent of respondents said officers on their department do carry when not working.
Half the officers said their agency has a policy requiring officers to take action to protect life or property while off-duty. An emphatic 93 per cent said their agency would expect them to intervene in certain violent situations they observed while off-duty (the assault of an elderly woman was cited as an example in the survey).
However, 65 per cent of the officers polled said their agency does not conduct specific training on off-duty use of force and 74 per cent said they receive no training on any aspect of off-duty confrontations.
Although on-duty and off-duty encounters can be profoundly different, the Institute concludes that the majority of LE agencies throughout the US are not training their personnel to deal successfully with these potentially dangerous confrontations.
FSRC’s executive director, Dr. Bill Lewinski, agrees. “Officers need to have special training about off-duty use-of-force issues, and especially about their limitations in responding to violent situations when they are out of uniform.
“When off-duty encounters go bad, the biggest issue tends to be that the intervening off-duty officer tends to feel that he or she is part of the police team and will be perceived as such by responding officers, while the officers arriving at the scene most likely won’t know who the off-duty officer is and can easily mistake him for an armed offender.
“If you chose to intervene in a situation off-duty with your gun drawn, do not take for granted that any uniformed officer is going to automatically interpret that you are from the law enforcement community. The single most important recommendation is to comply with all requests from uniformed personnel, regardless of how unreasonable they may seem. You want to do everything you can to calm the situation so that who’s who can be properly sorted out.”
[Thanks to Captain Mike Williams of the Chattanooga (TN) PD for acquainting us with the Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute survey. The full survey, including a sample off-duty action policy and a debrief on the fatal off-duty shooting in Rhode Island, can be accessed at www.patc.com]