Free Money

This news article discusses how some police departments are rethinking their policy of requiring off duty officers to be constantly armed. According to the author, the reason why has been some friendly fire incidents where uniformed officers mistakenly killed their brethren.

That doesn’t seem to be a sufficient reason, though…

“According to the FBI, 43 police officers have been killed since 1987 by friendly fire. Some were caught in crossfire, or killed by firearms mishaps. A handful, like Young, were mistaken for criminals and shot by fellow officers.”

Every single death was a tragedy, but 43 in 18 years? This webpage states that there are about 20,000 police agencies in the US, with about 1 million employees. Of course, not all employees are sworn police officers.

This article from the Rand Foundation states that the US has 2.3 police officers for every 1,000 people. If I’m punching the numbers into the calculator correctly, that’s about 130,000 police officers, a number which seems plausible.

At any rate, there are an awful lot of police officers in a population of 300 million. And “a handful” of those officers have tragically lost their lives due to off-duty incidents in the past 18 years. This doesn’t seem to be a sufficient justification to disarm trained, motivated people who have dedicated their lives to serving the public. And that is what the author of the AP article admits even with all of the talk of friendly fire deaths.

“The policy is at the center of a $20 million civil rights lawsuit being heard this month in Providence, where Sgt. Cornel Young Jr. was killed in 2000 while he was off duty and trying to break up a fight.”

I’ve written before how departments make policy decisions that are clearly against the best interests of the public in order to avoid lawsuits. I think this is yet another example.

Police officers are held to a higher standard than the public they serve, both in and out of uniform. (Which is a constant source of griping whenever cops talk shop.) This is considered justified because of the nature of the job, and the people we require to perform the service. It makes perfect sense to require those same people to be ready to act in an emergency 24-7.

Unless there’s money on the line, that is.

(Cross posted at Hell in a Handbasket.)

11 thoughts on “Free Money”

  1. You’re right. The numbers tell the story on this matter. This issue is really one about proper training – including firearms training, hostile engagement training … to name a couple. Some would even add that this is an issue for further training in race sensitivity.

    Unfortunately, in many of these cases, particularly the 1994 incident involving the off duty cop and the NYC transit undercover, tragic bad luck plays a huge role in these cases; like being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I wonder what the statistics are for off duty cops preventing crimes due to their off duty possession of weapons.

  2. The bottom line for any off duty law enforcement officer is to rip out his trusty cell phone and punch in the numbers, 911. Give the details and go on your way. All is not worth the possibility of getting shot or litigated to death.

  3. Can an off-duty officer afford to always call in something? Sometimes, there might not be time for anyone but an on-the-scene responder. So I don’t know if dialing 911 and moseying along can always work. And the cop who always hesitates to think about getting shot or litigated will not be much help, anyway, IMHO.

    If anything, the cases which might require additional guidelines/training, etc., are those where an off-duty officer stumbles upon something a few minutes into the situation, where on-duty officers are on their way or actually arriving.
    My example? There was an incident in Baltimore two years ago where a guy got shot right outside a closing bar by a guy he was having words with. An off-duty officer happened to go by about a minute after the shooting, with a crowd of people still standing around, and he jumps out of his car, gun drawn. Unfortunately, that’s also when the police showed up. He nearly got shot because the police, sadly, picked the first black man with a gun and assumed he was the shooter. The guy who did the actual shooting, meanwhile, was able to get away in the confusion. I don’t remember if they eventually apprehended him.

    But….no one was hurt despite the confusion, and how many of those 43 deaths since 1987 involved that type of situation, where the off-duty guy could have held back and contacted someone? I doubt very many. And again, it gets back to James’ point that these occurences are exceedingly rare.

  4. “that’s about 130,000 police officers, a number which seems plausible”

    There’s about 100,000 police officers in the UK for a population of 60 million.

    I think 2.3 officer per thousand should come to 690,000 for 300 million people. That fits with the 1 million employees figure giving a ratio of 2.3 officer to every support staff, which seems pretty reasonable.

  5. James d. makes some excellent points. The response time here in Columbus, Ohio averages to 6 minutes for a 911 call, an excellent record. But 6 minutes is an eternity in a violent confrontation.

    So far as requiring more training, I really don’t think so. For one thing, the article states that only a handful of the 43 officer deaths could be attributed to fellow officers mistaking their off-duty brethren as criminals.

    Continuing with this, Mark makes the point that there’s a lot more than 130K police officers in the US, which is something that has been confirmed in the comments over at The Handbasket. With that many officers in the population, there are going to be times when tragedy occurs and no one could have done anything about it. Since there were only “a handful” of deaths in close to 2 decades, that certainly doesn’t sound like a big problem that needs correcting.


  6. You folks are ignoring the elephant.

    If guns are useful for off-duty police going about their lives, isn’t it reasonable to think that they’re useful for other people?

    Uniformed police are rarely attacked and rarely witness attacks. Off-duty and plain-clothes police are attacked and witness attacks precisely because they look just like the rest of us.

  7. If an off duty officer values his life, he’ll not “look” for trouble. The officer in Baltimore, as told by James d, took a hell of a chance. Again, I stand by my words in an earlier post: Call 911.

  8. Arm them 24/7 if they like. Police are rare and accidents happen. Judgement in fire belongs to those in the fire. On or off duty really should mean that but it is also up to a citizen rather or not to be armed.

  9. Of course call 911. Even cops in uniform, on duty, are trained to immediately call for back up before engaging a possibly dangerous perpetrator. But than what? I think the real elephant in this story is that the city of Baltimore is willing to trust its cops to use their guns while on duty, but not while off duty. If they are concerned that their police aren’t well enough trained to carry guns off duty, then they should put more effort into training them.

  10. I cited that incident because that was the rare case where the crime had already occured and had left a confused, drunken crowd, a minute or two had gone by, and the on-duty response time was known by all to be minimal because they always patrol bars at closing time. In that instance, the off-duty officer should have recognized the confusion and not added to it.
    But I feel it’s almost the exception that proves the rule. Certainly, calling 911 is a good idea. But so is arming off-duty officers and letting them use their judgment, which, assuming they are competent, will be used correctly in nearly all cases

    BTW, my knowledge of that incident comes from a roommate who happened to be sitting in with some of the responding officers that night. Sorry, I should have mentioned that up front.

  11. Don’t forget the other elephant: If they’re mistakingly killing this many of their own, something that tends to get noticed, and is difficult to cover up, how many of US are they mistakenly killing?

    The problem is not that they’re mistakenly killing cops, the problem is that they’re mistakenly killing people, some small percentage of whom are cops.

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