Some factors have changed in police work today, specifically the density of officers to citizens in any given community. A glaring example is this: Tucson started 2011 with more than 40 fewer officers when its recent tragedy occurred. And Oakland, Calif., had to face a mass officer layoff after mourning the loss of four of its own.
If I had been at any of the hundreds of incidents against law enforcement officers in the country annually, I would have intervened. Anyone who has shouldered the weight of the badge would have intervened. The likelihood of a fellow officer being in a position to help is statistically low, but any one of us would, provided we don’t become part of the problem. There are rules to which off-duty officers must adhere.
As I write this article, a single concept has massaged my primary focus. There have been 11 felonious homicides against peace officers in the past 24 hours. There have been 14 officer deaths as of early February. Deadly and devastating assaults against officers have clearly risen. As a firearms tactics writer, my job is to keep the officer safety dialogue alive, to help keep officers alive.
Trainers have always adhered to the mantra “off duty is off duty,” meaning it is advisable not to get involved. However, if the situation requires intervention, preparation for an incident will improve the outcome every time. Just for clarification, most incidents against police officers happen when they are on duty. However, the concept of “semper vigilantes” should be the mantra for off-duty officers.
Foremost, off-duty actions must demonstrate an immediacy in the protection of life or property. Every agency must have a policy for officers off duty, especially for incidents like an officer unwittingly being dragged into a neighbor dispute. Policies must take into account, and protect, the officer from the predatory neighbor. The courts’ have upheld that if the officer’s actions are a result of enforcing the law or protecting the public and falls within the scope of their employment, the conduct is reasonable.
For example, in Schilt v. New York City Transit Authority (New York Supreme Court), the court deliberated whether or not the officer invoked his peace officer powers to ensure his vehicle would be repaired by the motorist during a collision/confrontation between an off-duty officer and a motorist. The rule is, if it furthers the interest of the officer, they are no longer a disinterested party. We expect officers to operate as disinterested parties. Whenever they don’t, it becomes a chink in the armor of immunity.
Preparation for an off-duty incident should include four major factors:
“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” — Thomas Jefferson
After the 1996 Olympics, research studies were initiated to identify winning routines and attitudes of the top athletes. Mind you, the studies were really identifying the top athletes of the top athletes. What these studies found was never a surprise. Top athletes have physical routines that create habituation, which often goes by the misnomer “muscle memory.” All good athletes practice to achieve physical endurance, conditioning and skills. What distinguished the 5-percenters from the achievers were the concepts of imagery and emotional control. The imagery part includes mental rehearsal. The emotional control includes an internal dialogue. If one attends a Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar, this is called “positive self talk.”
Mental preparation needs to include drills that bring the officer to reality when in the middle of an incident, and when the dust has momentarily settled. I am a firm believer in including a “check 6” with shooting drills. This is an old aviation term (actually the origin is sometimes disputed) for looking at the rear of the craft. It was adopted by firearms trainers to ensure peripheral awareness.