“When I think about how close I came to leaving my gun behind, it scares me.”

By Calibre Press  |   Oct 20, 2021

After finding himself unexpectedly engaged in an off-duty armed encounter, a California officer shared with Calibre Press some of the important lessons he learned after reviewing the incident.

Here’s what he wrote:

I volunteered to help with a Bingo fundraiser at the school where my wife teaches. As I went off-duty and changed into civilian clothes, I thought about not wearing my off-duty gun. I carry a full-size .40-cal. in a fanny pack holster. This was a school function and I expected retired folks, kids and parents…probably nobody threatening. But I made the decision to wear my gun anyway. Good thing I did! I learned some very important off-duty, plain clothes survival tips that day!

Lesson #1: Always carry off-duty.

I was running early for the event, so I went to a local Fish and Chips restaurant nearby. I parked my car about 30 feet from the main doors. As I walked over, I noticed there were no other cars parked in the lot, which seemed strange because the restaurant normally was busy with patrons.

I opened the front door and noticed there was only one customer; a man wearing all black, including a black watch cap pulled over the top of his eyes. He was reaching over the counter and grabbing for something. An older couple on the other side didn’t seem to want to give it up. The suspect spun toward me when he heard me open the door. I could see small silver semiauto in his right hand pointed toward the ceiling.

I was still in the threshold of the door, so I backed out and let the door close behind me. After about a second or two, the suspect ran out the front door about three feet from me. Sometime during my retreat out the door I drew my off-duty gun and when I saw he was still holding the semiauto as he came out the door, I aimed for his head.

Lesson #2: Keep your survival mind-set intact, even off-duty.

I remember thinking his gun looked like a .22-cal. I told myself I could take a hit from a .22 before firing my .40-cal. rounds. I never let myself think his gun was going to kill me. I knew I was going to survive and stop his threatening action.

LESSON #3: Always carry a restraining device off-duty.

With my gun leveled, I identified myself as a police officer and told him to drop his weapon. He noticed my gun was bigger than his and he complied. I took his gun and ordered him to prone out and put his arms out, away from his sides.

Now what? I wasn’t carrying any form of restraints. I held him down and kept my gun trained on him, but decided that if he started to resist, I was going to get off him and let him run unless he posed a deadly threat.

LESSON #4: Always use common law enforcement terms that other officers are sure to understand.

An 18-year-old kid ran over to me and asked if he could help. I told him to call 911 and tell them I was an off-duty officer who needed “Code 3 fills.” I had to correct myself and use the word “back-up.” In my county, we use the word “fill” for back-up officer. I think we’re the only county to use this. Had the kid called in to the jurisdiction I was in and asked for “fills,” the dispatcher may not have known what he was talking about.

LESSON #5: Avoid tunnel vision.

As I held the suspect down, I remembered to scan the area for accomplices and to be prepared to deal with them.

LESSON #6: Cooperate with local police arriving at the scene. You are a threat until proven otherwise.

I had the kid tell the dispatcher what I was wearing so the arriving uniformed officers would know I was a cop and avoid shooting me. When the first officer arrived, I got off the suspect, placed my gun on the ground and got into a kneeling position with my hands behind my back, ready to be cuffed. I knew I would probably be hooked up until my identity could be proven.

LESSON #7: Carry your law enforcement ID.

More cops arrived and one of them searched me looking for my badge or ID card. I didn’t have my badge, but I did have my ID. It proved who I was, and I was home free.

I now wear my fanny pack holster everywhere. It carries my gun, law enforcement ID card, flex cuffs and OC spray. Whenever I hear a fellow officer say he doesn’t carry this stuff off-duty, I tell them this story.

When I think about how close I came to leaving my gun behind, it scares me. If I didn’t have it that day, I’m sure I would have been shot. Remember to carry the right equipment and maintain the appropriate mind-set to stay safe on- and off-duty!

Have off-duty tips to add…or your own experience to share with other cops?

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