This post is prompted by a friend of mine I served with while at the Portsmouth Virginia Police Department. He shared THIS POST about actions a law enforcement officer took while off duty. This post isn’t about that debate or court case. I frankly don’t care since it will have zero effect on me now. But it got me to thinking. And here are my personal viewpoints about being off duty. Primarily since most people think we are never off duty as law enforcement officers. You are wrong.
Things I considered.
- Am I in my jurisdiction?
- If not, will the responding officers know me if I am in civilian clothes?
- Is there an agreement between my jurisdiction and the one I am in? Does it have to be enacted before mutual aid can be rendered?
- Federal law says that if I take police action off duty I am immediately ON duty and I will be compensated for my “on duty on clock” time.
- Does my jurisdiction have a policy about overtime? Do I need to have permission to work overtime before I actually engage? If so, I technically can not go “on duty” without permission.
- Do I have radio communications with the jurisdiction I am in? Mine or otherwise? How soon will help get there if needed?
- Since I am more than likely not in uniform, will the people around me know that I am a law enforcement officer?
Bottom line is if I am (or was) off duty, in my jurisdiction or not, I am off duty. I am a citizen. I have no obligation to engage in my profession when in a non-paid status. Oh, and non-paid status also means I am not covered by any insurance or assurance of protection for injury or other issues that may occur.
So contrary to what you may think, law enforcement officers are in fact “off duty” and have absolutely no requirement to take enforcement action beyond that of a normal citizen. I will be more than happy to dial 911. Provide statements to local law enforcement about what I saw or know. But I do not have to act. And in most cases, unless someone’s life was in danger, I did not.
That is not to say that I would stand by and let someone get hurt or killed. I absolutely would not do that as a cop, nor as a citizen. I would and will to this day do what is needed to protect the lives of myself, my family and anyone I can safely defend. But that is a personal choice. Not a mandate by some perceived requirement by the general population.