15 People Weigh in on Whether or Not off-Duty Cops Should Be Treated as Civilians

There’s a lot of conversations and controversy flying around about police officers these days – how much money they make, how they’re trained, and yeah, how they’re treated by the law themselves when they wander afoul of it.

This person thinks that cops should be considered civilians when off-duty, whether that means they’re treated more or less leniently in a given situation.

Image Credit: Reddit

He wants Reddit to change his view – to convince him cops should be “special” whether they’re on the clock or not.

These 15 people are giving it a shot.

15. It might required.

Some departments make an obligation to act/intervene as part of the contract of having a take-home marked police vehicle. If they drive their marked car to the store while off and someone shoplifts they are obligated to act or at least stay and notify on duty cops.

Some departments make all off duty cops obligated. This is why many cops carry their weapon while off-duty. They are rarely truly “off” and it affects their mental state by being constantly on guard. This speeds up the burn-out and results in your brutal abusive cops. It’s a vicious spiral.

14. The reasons are numerous.

There are a series of discussion papers from the external review committee of Canada’s federal police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP. They go into extensive detail about why off-duty police officers cannot simply be treated as normal civilians. The reasons are too numerous to list individually here, but one example is that police officers cannot run for public office.

It would demonstrate political bias in the police force. This isn’t a limitation placed on a normal civilian. It has nothing to do with their obligation to enforce the law, but it can’t be separated from it. All these obligations and restrictions are part and parcel of being a police officer.

Being part of the police is a public duty, not some day job that you can simply hang up at the end of your shift.

13. This could already be true.

So in this circumstance I’d like to point out that the vast majority of “citizen’s arrest” laws only apply to felonious acts in progress. Effecting an arrest by a civilian upon an individual committing a misdemeanor in most places constitutes unlawful imprisonment, with the exception of security guards. The fact of the matter is that all too often the general public over extends themselves or commits an offense while attempting to subdue someone.

In my state, an off duty officer is generally considered “just a civilian” legally when they are not within the jurisdiction which employs them, and thus bound by the above laws surrounding a citizen’s arrest. While inside their jurisdiction, whether on duty or off, they are considered officers with full police powers.

Officers, whether on duty or not, have a significantly greater level of training and understanding when it comes to identifying illegal activity as well as determining how to respond to it. Training provided to officers is not finite and in fact continues on a daily basis by experiencing new situations as well as exploring new ways of dealing with things. This training and experience, as well as the fluid and evolving nature of law enforcement, is one of the reasons cops are afforded a high level of immunity.

Simply put, officers are exposed to and experience stressful situations at a far greater rate than normal civilians. In civilian life, the traits which they’ve developed while working follow them home and are indeed valuable when identifying and responding to incidents which the public rarely experiences.

It is my belief that the same level of legal scrutiny / immunity would be granted to both an off duty cop and a civilian acting in good faith while attempting to intervene in a situation which goes bad.

12. It’s not apples to apples.

Cops have additional restrictions to their citizenship that a > 35-year-old non-felon American born person does not.

11. They have necessary skills.

Cops all have some sort of first responder training which means they are inherently more qualified than the average civilian in say giving first aid, clearing traffic, or defending themselves or others. Their legal status should reflect this.

10. That is the question.

Very interesting, but I think they answer the wrong question. They answered “are off duty cops the same as other civilians”. But, they should have answered “are off duty cops the same as on duty cops”.

To put it another way, there are many kinds of civilians with different kinds of restrictions. Immigrants can’t run for many public offices. 20 year olds in the US can’t drink. Comparing off duty cops against the thousand kinds of civilians will get you nowhere.

The question is what kind of cops are they?

9. When you put it that way.

If I am in trouble and there’s an off duty cop there I would want help. I wouldn’t want him not to help because he was afraid to get sued. Same goes for doctors, nurses and even civilians.

8. Where do their loyalties lie?

this is the biggest issue with off duty police to me. They work as bouncers and security guards, but with even less oversight than they have during their day job. Also obviously mixed loyalties – they arent just stopping people breaking laws, but putting their legal authority behind a private business’s rules and wants.

For example – a cop throwing me to the ground for being too close to a club I got kicked out of for spilling a drink. If a normal bouncer had done this I could call the cops for assault. As a cop did it under current laws he could easily argue that it was a valid escalation, and being a cop no one would take the word of a tipsy guy over a cop in uniform.

7. They did promise.

A cop, to protect and serve. If they see crimes committed they should be able to protect and serve also when not on the job. I would be glad to have a off duty cop taking care and using his power to step in. Just not the corrupt and badly trained ones….

6. Because economics.

I’ll argue from a purely economics point of view.

Allowing off duty police the same powers as on duty and the same protections effectively Increases our total police force without the extra pay. It takes advantage of the fact that people who sign up to be police are often the kind of people that would intervene in an issue anyway and therefore allows them to do so without the added overtime pay.

Are there some inherent issues and abuses that it introduces? Sure. But perhaps they are outweighed by the economic and safety benefits of having a larger police presence without having to pay for it.

5. Codifying would be difficult.

It has been mentioned multiple times that policing laws vary from place to place so this may be specific to where my dad was a police officer for 25 years, but I believe it is how that St. Louis law you posted is generally interpreted.

Regularly establishments such as malls, movies, bars, and event venues will contract through the town to have officers “on duty” at their locations to respond to incidents with the full capacity granted to sworn officers that are not given to security guards. This work is outside of an officer’s regularly scheduled hours and the officers are paid by the third party at a rate set by the town. So while they are not on duty for the town, they are still a representative of the town and will respond to incidents at that location (or near it) as if they were on duty.

An example: My dad was hired by the local mall during the holiday season to be a presence to deter shoplifting and respond if needed. A fight broke out between two groups that resulted in one person being slashed with a knife and another who had blunt force trauma injuries. Because he was in uniform, people immediately know he was an officer and not just another member of the fight, he had his kit with him to include handcuffs to assist in arrests, his bulletproof vest which helped weaken the blow of skateboard across his back, items for basic first aid, and if things escalated, his weapon if needed. He also had his department-issued radio to immediately call for assistance and an ambulance for the wounded. If he was not in uniform and without his gear, things may have turned out differently and the response by on duty officers and the ambulance would have been much slower.

A separate instance we were driving home from dinner. A car in front of us was weaving all over the road. He called dispatch and had an on-duty officer pull the person over for suspicion of DUI. Did he have to do that, absolutely not. We could have driven home but because police officers are generally “on duty” 24/7, he felt it was an obligation to do the right thing. And because he was an officer, he was required to testify in court during the sentencing, something a civilian would not have to do. While he didn’t require legal protection in this situation, it is an instance of being “on duty” 24/7, doing his best to uphold the oath he took.

As to why officers need additional legal protection when off duty, the job never leaves you. I don’t know your profession but most professions don’t require you to interact with gang members who have extended networks looking for retaliation on those who put their members in jail. There were multiple instances where we were followed when driving or watched from a distance by people clearly looking for revenge or trying to make a statement. After large drug arrests, we left town for a week to stay with relatives due to threats to our family. If an incident occurred while he was off duty that required him to defend himself / my family / nearby civilians because of his work, I would argue that he should have the same legal protections as when he is on duty.

4. Aren’t we all?

Are off-duty cops legally required to intervene in certain situations?

3. They’re always cops.

I have a friend in NJ who is a cop. The way he explained it to me is like this. He’s a cop, certified by the state of NJ to be a cop. He is in effect, always on duty unless he is unfit for duty. What does that mean? If we go out and go drinking for example, he is not fit for duty. But, if we go out and he decides to carry, he is putting himself on-duty, and may act accordingly in his duties if the need arises. It is my understanding he has a duty to intervene if he can in the instance of criminal action. While he is a cop in a small town, he does have his policing powers throughout the state of NJ.

We had a youth football game where some rather unsavory gentleman decided to make a ruckus. They were immediately ejected and then proceeded to threaten return to do harm. Unfortunately for them, they made the statements in front of two guys who were coaches, but also happened to be cops just being dads for the day. They were arrested and trespassed.

So according to the State of NJ, he is on duty, whether or not he’s at his regular duty, if the need arises.

Does that make sense?

2. Qualified vs. criminal.

Can you point to “immunity from prosecution”? It seems like your mixing qualified immunity with criminal immunity, which they don’t have. QI just means people can’t sue them (civilly) for doing their job. If they overreach and violate someone’s rights, QI doesn’t apply. If a cop goes overboard and kills or injures someone, they’re still subject to arrest and prosecution criminally, as we’ve seen a few times recently.

Remove QI, and you’ll stop policing in its track. No cop is going to patrol when any contact they have can result in a civil lawsuit that, while unjustified, would still require him to pay for a lawyer and defend himself.

Some states even extend this type of immunity to civilians… For example, in Texas, if you shoot and kill someone in self defense, you’re immune from a civil lawsuit. The dead man’s family can’t come back and pull and OJ on you (not guilty in criminal trial, guilty of wrongful death).

1. Back it up.

I think they can have special protections, but they need to identify themselves as a cop by displaying a badge. Otherwise how are people to know that it’s a police officer and not a deranged lunatic pointing a gun at them.

I think I agree with OP (original poster) here, what about you?

Sound off in the comments!