Off-duty law enforcement explained
February 28, 2012
Many people are unsure of the status of off-duty law enforcement officers. Do they have the power to perform an arrest? Can they pull you over for DUI? Can they intervene in a robbery or assault? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding ‘yes’.
A licensed law enforcement officer is authorized to perform their duties even when they’re off duty. Essentially an off-duty law enforcement officer is sworn to enforce the law 24/7. The difference is that when they’re not in uniform, they must always identify themselves as a law enforcement officer before intervening in any law enforcement situation.
Many law enforcement departments require that off-duty law enforcement officers carry a firearm even when they’re off the job in case they run into a situation where they must intervene with force. Most law enforcement departments discourage officers from intervening in anything but serious situations, such as robberies and assaults. In less serious situations, their responsibility is to call for backup and secure the scene, if necessary.
Part of the reason that off-duty law enforcement are discouraged from intervening in non-emergency situations is liability. If an officer is injured while off duty the department’s insurance might refuse them coverage for disability or medical care.
If you’re in a grocery store where an off-duty law enforcement officer is working as a security guard, they can make an arrest and are probably carrying a concealed weapon. On the other hand, chances are if they see someone breaking the law, they will call for a uniformed officer to respond to the situation. In the event of a shoplifter in the store they’re being paid to guard, they’ll detain the suspect and call for an on-duty officer to come and make the arrest.
Off-duty law enforcement officers are required to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects positively on the law enforcement profession, even when they’re out of uniform. If they break the law, they face the same legal repercussions as an ordinary citizen.