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By John Morrison

Please Say It Ain’t So …

Maybe it’s just a fad, a phase, a phenomenon, as it was during that decade of lunacy in the 70’s — The Disco Era — when it seemed the whole nation, including cops, took a 20-point IQ dump. That’s the last time I recall cops in significant numbers were not carrying guns off-duty.

In addition to the sheer stupidity of the times, the clothing in vogue accounted for much of this. For males it meant trousers that fit skin-tight in the thighs and waist, with ridiculous bell-bottoms over platform shoes; shirts tight in the torso with billowing sleeves like you’d find on players in Caribbean bongo-drum bands, with lapels like bat-wings. Yeah, even some brain-damaged detectives tried to dress like that. Anyway, it made carrying firearms inconveniently difficult while maintaining “the look.” Just to illustrate the prevailing levels of lunacy, many police bargaining bodies actively sought to negotiate away pay raises in exchange for longer hair and sideburns. I’m not kidding. I thought that was only marginally stupider than officers going unarmed because guns didn’t fit their fashion choices.

About a month ago I was on a holster website and found a testimonial from a guy who claimed to be a police sergeant. He said he had “rarely” carried a firearm off-duty until he tried their pocket holster. Now he carries “most of the time.” I scrolled down and found two other claimed officers — out of 12 total testimonials — who said they rarely or only occasionally carried off-duty until the vendor’s product made packing little pistols more convenient. This was the Internet, so I took those claims not with a grain of salt, but a block of it, because the poser rate online seems to be about 92 percent. But I was bothered enough to make some phone calls.

Social Schism In Cop World?

Yes, I was told, it seems to be a growing trend, though it appears to be expanding in parallel with the number of officers who are “carrying heavier” — packing second and third backup guns, more spare ammo in the form of magazines or speed loaders, multiple restraints, less-lethal gear like stun devices and pepper spray and some are wearing soft armor anytime they’re going to high-density places like shopping malls and such. So, numbers of officers are going in completely different directions? Polarization in society-at-large is by any definition extreme in America today, but among cops?

My efforts don’t qualify as research, and the results aren’t scientifically valid, but it appeared there was not much difference between officers serving on very small departments and those working big metropolitan agencies: Some officers are going “heavy” and some running “naked;” smaller or larger numbers, same kind of schism. Regulations ran from largely unenforced “must carry” to nonexistent rules. A recurring theme is that if an agency mandates off-duty carry it will become a thorny compensation issue. Another theme is agencies, which seem to grudgingly allow off-duty carry, but informally convey the message that first, you should somehow magically avoid any off-duty “trouble,” and if you do encounter it, “be a good witness.” I haven’t heard anyone deal with the question, “Under what conditions is your oath to defend and protect suspended?”

Excuses, Excuses

Excuses for not carrying off-duty include: “My agency won’t back me up if I get into a lethal incident.” So why do you stay there? If they won’t back you up off-duty, how effectively might they back you in an on-duty incident? There’s always the possibility you’ll be hung out to dry by virtually any LE agency. So ask yourself, are you a cop because of the support you get from upstairs, or often, despite the support you get? And since in most off-duty shooting incidents, your life or that of a loved one is among the lives saved, would you rather you or they die than take a chance on being abandoned to your own devices? The argument is invalid. Find a good lawyer and keep their card with you.

“I don’t need to be armed all the time off-duty. Violent crimes are actually down, and the places I go are pretty peaceful.” What state do you live in? Oh yeah, the state of denial. Consider this too: The deadliest crimes are increasingly tending to occur in otherwise relatively crime-free places — the kind you go to. The crazies are crazier, and they’re competing for who can kill the most innocents. You can be one of the sheep being slaughtered, or worse, be the cop who watched it happen and was powerless to stop it. Or, you can be the sheepdog who pops the jackal. If that doesn’t make the decision for you, I’ve heard UPS is hiring.

This is a bigger issue than can be dealt with in one column. In the next Street Level: the why’s, what’s and how’s.