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Does an off-Duty Police Officer Have Authority?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are several different schools of thought concerning the powers of an off-duty police officer, and each police department has its own best practices policy. A duly licensed law enforcement officer generally has the authority to enforce the law 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but only after establishing his or her identity as a police officer. The designation "off-duty" only means the officer is not working a regular shift for the police department, not living as a private citizen with no authority whatsoever. An off-duty police officer can be employed as a private security guard and still have the power to arrest offenders or in many circumstances carry a concealed weapon.

This does not mean, however, that an off-duty police officer can use his or her authority for personal reasons. When not in uniform, a police officer has the same limited rights as any other citizen when it comes to personal responsibility and behavior. For example, an off-duty police officer attending a private party cannot pull a gun on a fellow guest or force an intoxicated party-goer to stop drinking. He or she can place a person under citizen's arrest until an on-duty police officer arrives, but many police departments discourage off-duty police officers from actively participating in such an arrest unless the situation is life-threatening.

An off-duty police officer may have proper identification and legal authority to arrest an offender, but he or she is also not considered to be on the clock, meaning there could be serious liability or insurance issues if he or she is injured during an off-duty incident or other damage occurs. This is why many off-duty police officers tend to avoid getting directly involved in minor incidents unless the offense is clearly egregious. An off-duty police officer may contact an on-duty police officer to report a minor traffic accident, but only use his or her authority to pull over an erratic driver creating a clear traffic hazard.

Some people believe that an off-duty police officer not in uniform and driving an unmarked car cannot legally issue a citation, but that is not always the case. Different police departments have different policies concerning the authority of off-duty officers, but in many places an off-duty police officer does have the legal right to detain an offender until an on-duty officer arrives to finish the process. The key factor in such an action is proper identification, however. An off-duty police officer who instigates a fight or commits an illegal act has no more rights or legal protections than any other private citizen.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to Historical Index, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon999991 — On Apr 30, 2018

If it's not a felony, you'd better not pull that citizens arrest routine. And I believe there are labor laws about someone working 24 hours in a row , for seven days a week, 365 days a year without having any time off. You might not make very good judgements after being at work for 8760 hours and that's only your rookie year. No, they are not on duty at all times.

By anon996262 — On Aug 02, 2016

I was driving to work in NJ and exited off of a highway. There was this truck in front of me who was obviously driving faster than me. Once we got off of the exit ramp onto a main road, the truck sped up and I was behind them, but kept a 1 car length distance. After a stoplight, I decided to pass the truck on right, but the truck went before me, so I went back into the left lane to pass them.

As I passed them, I did not turn my head to look over but out of the corner of my eye while keeping my head straight looking to the road. I could barely see them with their window down screaming something I couldn't make out, since my windows were up and we were driving 50+ mph on posted speed limit of 50mph.

I then proceeded to get into the right lane (with plenty of room and distance not to cut them off) to make a right turn and at the light they followed me and snapped a picture of my license plate. They had an FOP badge on their window and my initial thoughts were maybe off duty police officer or maybe regular citizen with a FOP badge like millions of other people. The truck purposely followed me for about 1/2 mile before making a U-turn to go back. My question is, when I passed the truck, the truck also sped up on purpose, so could they call in my license plate if they were an off duty officer from another town?

By anon994484 — On Feb 12, 2016

I was driving home in NJ last night and stopped at a light. When the light turned green, I started to follow the car in front of me. The guy in the lane to my left wasn't paying attention and didn't move, so I proceeded to follow the car in front of me into an area where the two lanes merge. When the guy on my left finally paid attention and started moving, I was already halfway into the merge area, and he floored his gas to catch up to me and tried to cut me off. I wouldn't let him. For the next half mile, he stayed even with me, even though it was a one-lane road. He was driving half over the double-lines and kept trying to inch ahead of me and force me off to the side so he could cut in front of me. Again, I wouldn't let him.

When we stopped at a double-lane light, he jumped out of his car and started banging on my window, screaming at me "what the bleep is your problem," etc. I yelled back and told him he was my problem because if he had been paying attention to the road and not his phone, he would have noticed that the light changed to green and started moving with traffic instead of driving like a dangerous idiot.

At that point he pulled out some kind of shield that looked like a guard identification and demanded that I pull over. I refused and told him that I know he wasn't a cop because no police officer would drive like such a dangerous idiot. He kept screaming that he was an officer and demanding that I pull over. I told him to call the local PD and have them pull me over, but I wasn't pulling over for him because he wasn't an officer and didn't have the authority to pull me over.

At that point, the light turned green and I pulled away. He was a couple of cars back and ran back to his car and kept trying to drive around people to get even with me again, but he couldn't reach me. I just kept driving normally and drove to the local PD headquarters. He followed me until I pulled into the parking lot and then he sped away.

I wonder what would/could have happened to him if he followed me into the lot and the local PD had to come out and confront him?

By anon988116 — On Feb 08, 2015

Post 69 said he has to protect, but not so. The supreme court said it wasn't their job to serve or protect, but only to enforce the law.

By mddc — On Mar 25, 2014

It's a nice article. I learned a new thing.

By anon935455 — On Feb 25, 2014

On or off duty, I know he has to protect, but should as well be judged as a civilian while off-duty because some of them can take advantage of that and do whatever they want and won't be held responsible. They are here to protect, not to harm.

By anon928288 — On Jan 27, 2014

My boyfriend and another friend were walking one of our friend’s homes. On the way over there, an unmarked police car pulled them over. They asked my boyfriend's name and he gave his first and middle name.

One officer was a chief of the police station and was getting very rude to my friends and boyfriend. He tried to yank my boyfriend’s jacket open and couldn’t because of how the jacket was made. I know for the most part that is an illegal search. He didn’t ask to see into his pocket or ask him to empty his pockets, either. He tried to just rip the jacket open.

The other officer was nice about it and asked my two friends nicely. The police chief had ignored my one friend when he said he was cold and my boyfriend repeated to the officer he was cold. They ended up taking my boyfriend and giving him a summons.

I know a few mistakes that were made by the officers because I am studying law to go to college. I live in New Jersey. Although in truth, the officer had no reason, especially off duty, to pull my friends and boyfriend over because they didn’t have weapons or anything. They were just walking and taking another friend home.

As far as I know with New Jersey state law, unless an off duty cop feels something is going to be life threatening he is not allowed to pull someone over. They were walking -- nothing more. My boyfriend getting mad at how the police chief was talking and treating them got a bit snippy. He only gave his first and middle name when they asked his name, although they never gave them a reason on why they pulled him over. Then they gave him a summons for "falsifying his name" which he didn’t. He gave his first and middle name.

By anon357107 — On Dec 01, 2013

Off duty or on, he still has the authority to enforce powers vested in him one he identifies himself as a police officer.

Whether he is on duty or not, he is still sworn to uphold the laws of the state or county which employs him.

By anon342638 — On Jul 22, 2013

@anon70606: Get a better lawyer or try to get your case heard in another court. I had the same problem with a judge being impartial years ago. Get evidence to support any crimes by cops - record every interaction, send as many communications through mail (have ex sign for it). Get names and badge numbers. Always have someone there to be your witness. Always try to interact in public where more people are present. Always remain calm, don't lose control. If they have control over your emotions, they have control over you.

In your case, if children are involved, seek advice from their physician/psychologist. And don't forget to use a camera. Record all interactions!

By anon342637 — On Jul 22, 2013

Whenever you deal with a cop/law officer, know that the person will look out for his own interests and not yours. Remain calm and do not fight back or talk back. Get names and badge numbers.

If someone threatens you with their "official" position in an "unofficial"/off-duty capacity, then you want to be able to report them. Don't report them to their boss. Instead, call a lawyer. A lawyer is also an officer of the court and responsible for reporting crimes. Also, reporting the crime to a lawyer means your rights should be protected. Most lawyers will not charge money for this because it usually leads to a small lawsuit.

It is a shame that in the "greatest country," we should be afraid that our police are no better than the criminals they arrest. Protect yourself, use your cell phone camera, record the incident and get as much evidence as possible.

By anon340309 — On Jul 02, 2013

@anon334939 (and anon175595, apparently): Officer 'A' attending a party while off-duty has been invited into the home and was directed by the homeowner to go to an area within the home where the officer discovered marijuana plants.

The evidence discovered by the off-duty officer should not be suppressed. "A government agent, in the same manner as a private person, may accept an invitation to do business and may enter upon the premises for the very purposes contemplated by the occupant." Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206, 211 (1966).

By rdu06 — On May 21, 2013

Recently at a private event, where police were hired for security, a police officer was sent to find me because the owner wanted to talk to me. When I was located, the officer (in uniform) introduced himself by name and title and added that he was "with the _____ Police Department".

What followed was me being escorted by another police officer to be reprimanded by the owner of the event.

I understand that police have their authority 24/7 and that there is a reason that people hire police for private security, but my question is this:

Should the officer have introduced himself by name and title and that he was with the private event, or is it OK that he said he was with the ________ Police Department?

My thoughts are that I was illegally detained and that the officer implied that it was a legal matter by stating that he represented the police department. I feel that he should have indicated that he was representing the event, not the city police department. Basically, I feel that the owner sent his goons to get me. If possible, someone please answer who has factual knowledge of the law. I have my own opinion, but that doesn't make me correct. Thank you.

By anon334939 — On May 16, 2013

I have a scenario: While off duty, and at a party, Officer "A" was asked by the homeowner to get some ice from his basement. Since the ice machine was not immediately apparent, the officer opened two different doors. Behind door number two were six marijuana plants. The officer arrested the homeowner.

Would you exclude the marijuana plants? What court cases would justify that?

By anon334091 — On May 09, 2013

I was driving home and the speed limit is 45. The guy in front of me on the left lane going 35, so I went around him -- not to cut him off or anything (not to mention he was driving a new BMW), so when I was going to pass him he speeds up so I speed up because I needed to exit on the left.

As soon as I passed him, he tailed me, and at the light he gets out of his car. He was not in uniform or anything but yelled at me, using profanity and saying he would put me in jail. His friend gets out of passenger seat and tells they are officers and he has my license plate on his iphone.

He didn't ask for my license or anything, but kept yelling at me and saying I will get a ticket in the mail. Neither of them showed identification and both were in normal street clothing. How is this possible? As he was walking away, he kept yelling at me, saying I am a stupid you-know-what the whole time. Why would a cop say that to me when leaving in the first place?

By DoubleT — On Mar 23, 2013

@Blane: Sorry for the delayed response. You are nowhere in the law required to be given a copy of the citation. Now yes, that is the norm, but obviously that department is implementing an Eticket system, hence why you didn't receive a copy. The court will have a copy of the citation. You only need show up for court and you will be notified in the mail by the court.

By MrQuincy — On Feb 27, 2013

@anon124535, post 18: You are clearly a police brutality apologist. Rogue police are rampant. The Detroit Police Department has spent $19.1 million paid in police misconduct-related payouts over three years. In the recent nutty police officer case, LA police were yelling "burn him, burn the..." after telling the media to turn off their cameras, some of whom thankfully didn't turn off the audio, which is now available on the web. And during that same incident, police shot up a vehicle and further assaulted other innocents because they "thought" the suspect was in the vehicle.

And people claim it's ridiculous to ask whether rogue police will attack you?

By anon321634 — On Feb 23, 2013

I am curious. I was picking up my daughter from school and was 10 minutes early. All the way from my home to the school, I drove the limit. Once inside the parking lot, I didn't notice that I was "speeding," but as I parked, some old man came out of his truck that was waiting in the "pick up" lane and headed my way. He tapped on my window and asked if I knew I was speeding. Of course I said no, and I didn't think I was speeding. Then he started going off that he was a cop, off duty, picking up his grandkid and I was putting people in danger. He even showed me his badge and said he and the guy park behind him guessed that I was speeding (going 30 in a small parking lot), and his proof was that I had splashed the side of his car with the puddle that was near his truck. He then started saying he could totally call in one of his buddies to give me a $200 ticket, could be more because of it being a school zone and I could've hit the kids walking (even though school would not be out for another 10 minutes). All I can say for sure was that I just had to keep apologizing because I didn't realize I was "speeding" until he finally went away.

After that incident, I am now super paranoid that if I run into him again at her school, he'll harass me or something (before he walked away, he asked for my last name). Although I'm not too worried about that because I only drove the one day (my daughter and I walk to school every day). Was he right to do that?

Of course I would never purposely speed in a school zone or anywhere, I'm not stupid, but all I could think about the moment he started talking about how he was a cop was that "crap, he's a cop and he could do whatever he wants if I say or do the wrong thing." And it didn't help that his tone sounded really aggressive.

By anon311155 — On Dec 30, 2012

In the UK and Northern Ireland, a police officer if not impaired through drink or drugs (legal medication), can be considered on-duty when the situation requires.

Also, there is an "any person power of arrest" which is in effect a citizens arrest and where an offense has been committed and the alleged offender has done it or is suspected of committing it then they may be detained.

By anon307123 — On Dec 03, 2012

I was walking down the street with a friend and a minivan pulled into the driveway in front of us and a man dressed in street clothes identified himself as a officer and said he needed to ask us some questions.

Then another person in street clothes came by and pulled my friend aside. Well, the other officer asked me questions, and the officer who was talking to my friend search his bag and found weed. They told us that we were both under arrest and handcuffed both of us, and emptied our pockets.

Then the officers swapped spots and I was talking to the second officer. He never identified himself to me or even showed me his badge. When I didn't answer one of his questions, he grabbed my sweater and swung me in to the side of the van with a excessive amount of force and put his face about two inches away from mine and asked the question again. Are they allowed to do this?

By Blane — On Nov 02, 2012

I took my wife's vehicle over to get an inspection sticker issued for her vehicle. When I got to the place where I have this done, I was told that he was out of stickers and was hoping that they would be in today's UPS drop.

As I was leaving to go back home, I was pulled over by an Amarillo Texas City Bike Unit. I gave him my license and insurance. He then gave me a device and had me put my digital signature on it. He went back to his motorcycle and came back several minutes later and said that his equipment wasn't working, and for me to call the Municipal Court next Monday to get a court number.

I was under the impression that if you don't receive a copy of a citation at the time of the offense, that the ticket was not legal? How can I go before a court judge if I don't have a copy of the citation? Your thoughts on this, please.

By DoubleT — On Jul 16, 2012

@anon42679, Post 1: What state do you live in and what do you mean by attack? Be very clear.

By DoubleT — On Jul 16, 2012

@anon177825, Post 27: Technically, it depends on the jurisdiction. However, the real world answer you're asking for you real world question is yes he can. And he did. Not trying to be a smart aleck, but I'm just saying. You clearly were breaking the law and he intervened. The reason why I say jurisdiction is because laws vary slightly from state. In Texas, you had better be leaving, or you would be going to jail for several different reasons. Texas Peace Officers are Peace Officers 24/7 no matter what they wear. And as of 2006, no matter where in the state they are.

By DoubleT — On Jul 16, 2012

@anon236277, Post 34: I almost didn’t post on this because I don’t like to argue semantics, however being a fellow Devil Dog I will entertain this post. O.K. First, what is wrong with carrying a gun and being in a bar? Your argument of a cop carrying and being at a bar has nothing to do with a cop drunk at a bar. Being at a bar doesn’t mean you’re drinking. Now, some jurisdictions are different than others, but the general idea is that you are trained and licensed by the state and the state holds you to a higher standard. (Remember I’m a fellow Devil Dog, so I’m not insulting your training. It’s just different.)

I personally go out and I carry my gun with me everywhere because I have a family and I refuse to be a victim. I’m not looking to enforce any laws on anyone but I really enjoy not being limited as to where I can carry like if I were carrying on a Concealed Carry License. When I go to a bar and I drink, it’s usually one or maybe two, and yes, that’s still alcohol in my system, and yes, I know if I end up using my gun in a deadly force situation then I will face higher levels of scrutiny than if I had no alcohol in my system. That being said, two other things are already taken into account. One I’m a SWAT Officer so I have a different level of training, and two, if I use my gun off duty at a bar it’s because if I didn’t, I was going to be carried out in a bag. (So I guess added scrutiny at that point isn’t so bad given my choices.)

By DoubleT — On Jul 16, 2012

@anon243034, Post 37: In regards to duty to act, you *may* be correct in some jurisdictions, but you had better be a bit more specific. In Texas, your duty to act follows you 24/7. Your duty bound to act at all times by the *law*. Now, your department may or may not encourage that through their policy. However, as far as the law is concerned, you are bound to act and liable to suit if you don’t.

By DoubleT — On Jul 16, 2012

@bryankm2, Post 39: It depends on the agency. First of all, let me help you with a fallacy. A radar gun is usually not the best choice for detecting speeds. It’s not as reliable as other methods. A laser gun looks like a radar gun but is completely different technology. A laser gun is almost 100 percent conviction on speeding if the police officer knows what he is doing.

Another method of speed detection is pacing. That’s where I match your speed with mine. Now there are some technicalities that enter the picture when you do this, such as the calibration of your speedometer, but all police vehicles have calibrated speedometers. And I own a police vehicle for my own personal vehicle, so if I really wanted to, I could, yes. But there are other ways of addressing that situation that are better (fewer headaches) for me.

By DoubleT — On Jul 16, 2012

@anon276539, Post 41: I'm both a Texas Peace Officer and a federal police officer, so let me see if I can help answer your question.

It depends. The opening the car on private property part depends on the circumstances involved in the incident. The part that he works for the Fire Marshal's Office tells me you're most likely dealing with a Fire Marshal or deputy fire marshal. Either way, they are Texas Peace Officers so they have the same powers as any other Texas Peace Officer.

By anon278662 — On Jul 08, 2012

An officer pulled me over, starting screaming at me that I had hit a car in a parking lot across the street from where he stopped me.

I went back and he showed me the car he claimed I hit, but there was no mark on the car. There was another officer who said, "I didn't see anything" as the first officer continued to scream at me. I asked him to stop screaming. Then he said, "And you didn't stop when I came after you." I had pulled over in the first place I could -- literally across the street from the lot, since I didn't think you were supposed to stop in an intersection, and I had no idea that this officer was after me.

There had been three police cars parked in the lot and I figured one of them got a call. Finally, he had no badge so I couldn't identify him and I wasn't going to ask a screaming angry police officer for his name and badge number (but I would have been interested to see how many times he has harassed people). This guy's reaction to what I supposedly did seemed like the kind of thing an officer would do if I had hit a person or committed an actual crime.

By anon276694 — On Jun 25, 2012

I live in pennsylvania and was approached in front of my house, in a borough zoned community where an officer from a different borough off duty drove up to me.

I was washing my dirt bike and he reached in his pants pocket pulled out his wallet and flashed his badge and and said, "If I see you driving your dirt bike one more time on the dirt road by my house, I'm calling the local authorities to have your bike confiscated and a citation issued to you for operating a non registered vehicle on a dirt road way." This stinks because I would have to push my bike three street blocks to the area where we are able to ride. Can he do this or not? Just wondering? And he threatened me because he flashed his badge with no name.

By anon276539 — On Jun 24, 2012

Can an off duty police officer working a side job doing security in Texas tell you to open your vehicle if you are out of your vehicle and away from it, make you walk back to where it was parked tell you to open it if you are on private property?

And can that same officer, the next day when he is on duty, do an investigation on you (this is not a patrol officer, but someone who works for the fire marshal's office) if he is not investigating a fire? I think this would be an illegal search and a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

By bryankm2 — On May 26, 2012

A question for all the cops posting on here: Most of you have mentioned that you have the same authority to enforce the law regardless of whether you're on the clock or not. How about this: can you pull someone over who you think is speeding even if you don't have a radar detector? Just curious about how far you can push it.

By anon267600 — On May 10, 2012

Can an off duty police officer hired for security by a private, not city or county, public event, handcuff and arrest you without an on duty Tennessee city officer present?

By anon243034 — On Jan 25, 2012

The key word here is "duty." When a police officer is on duty, he has a legal duty to act. When off duty, he becomes a ordinary citizen and has no duty to act. In the event that he does act, he has a duty to act in a reasonable manner.

By anon237482 — On Dec 29, 2011

This is an interesting question. I'm a lawyer with a bit of experience working for my county and I've done some general research for the sheriff's department.

I would say that it depends on what state you are in. The legal subject of police power is a matter of state law (or federal if you are talking about FBI). Most states have generally similar legal systems (common law), though they are often somewhat different in the particulars. I believe in Tennessee, police may make arrests off duty and carry a concealed weapon.

By anon236747 — On Dec 25, 2011

I just got a reckless driving citation for getting passed by an off-duty cop on a narrow icy road. I turned him in after I was served a ticket 90 minutes later. I see the judge in two days. We'll see what happens. By the way, he never identified himself.

By anon236277 — On Dec 22, 2011

If you check out the shooting in Murrieta California, you will see that normal citizens have no rights. Someone needs to explain why anyone would be allowed to have a gun, and alcohol. I spent 20 years in the Marines, and probably have more weapons training than most cops, yet I can't carry. Which is fine. I am not on duty. Why does an off duty cop need a gun in a bar? The law needs change to at least adjust for the stupidity of man.

By anon228818 — On Nov 10, 2011

I think an important distinction to make is "out of uniform" or "in uniform" when it comes to off-duty officers. I generally assume a police officer is like any other worker who must wear a uniform during work hours. The first thing they want to do is get out of it and change into more comfortable civilian clothing. If I see a uniformed officer in a grocery store, I assume he's just doing some shopping before he goes home. I might think he's working as a paid security guard if he's in uniform at a private event. Either way, I figure I'm just seeing him or her in uniform for a short period of time.

I'm more concerned about what happens if an off-duty police officer in civilian clothing tries to detain me or get into an argument. Since I have no way of knowing that he or she is an actual officer who happens to be off the clock, how can I assume he or she has any more legal powers than I do?

One time I was waiting to turn left at an intersection and the light turned yellow, then red. Since I was already halfway in the intersection, I completed my left turn. That's not an uncommon thing to do if you've been waiting in the turn lane for traffic to clear. The driver coming from my right in the cross lane apparently didn't see me, so he drove on the green and nearly rear ended my car. He thought I cut him off.

I was headed to my bank about a mile away and I felt like this guy was following me too close the entire way. I pulled into a space at the bank and he blocked me from behind. I was scared to death.

The guy got out of the car holding a portable walkie talkie. He acted like he was talking to someone over it, then came over to my driver's side window. He started screaming at me about the incident at the intersection, telling me I cut him off and I wasn't in the intersection and yadda, yadda, yadda. Finally, he tells me he's an off-duty police officer, and if he has been on duty, he would have given me a major ticket for running the red light and whatever else. He finally drove off, but the whole thing really shook me up. I never saw any official identification, he was in civilian clothing, and he was driving a regular vehicle. I'd like to think that real off-duty police officers who feel wronged in traffic situations don't abuse their authority like that. They should know that identifying themselves as police officers when out of uniform does have an intimidating effect, so they shouldn't do it unless a real crime has been committed.

By anon219135 — On Oct 02, 2011

I saw a suspicious person in my neighborhood and called 911. When I was talking to them, I saw a police car drive by. The dispatcher told me to flag the officer down. After following him for a couple of blocks, honking the horn and blinking the car lights, I finally was able to pull up next to him and get his attention. After I explained the situation, the officer (in uniform and in a patrol car) said he was on private assignment and that I should call 911. It seems strange to me that we are paying for his car and clothing, but he can refuse to help.

By anon214694 — On Sep 15, 2011

@anon42679: At least one recent decision, in Indiana, has established that a citizen has no right to self defense against a police officer, regardless of whether the officer is acting legally or illegally. (The ruling being based on the notion that a citizen attempting to defend themselves "unnecessarily escalates the level of violence").

By anon210328 — On Aug 30, 2011

I find off-duty police officers in uniform completely confusing. I was at a club and a bouncer yanked me hard from behind by my backpack. I was with a group of friends and looking for a place to check it and all I saw was a pile of backpacks in a kind of trough pile on the floor. My friends walked into the other room ahead of me since I was looking for something like a check in.

I was very surprised because it was a violent yank back by my straps and I turned around to see this guy dressed like a clean-cut cowboy in a big cowboy hat. I was angry and surprised and he told me to leave. He would not let me go tell my friends, so I walked to the desk by the door and turned around to see if I saw my friends. He shoved me down and out hard, and I stood up and braced myself and this time he kneed me in the groin area. I was very upset and went outside angry and turned around and called him a bully for pushing people around. He was at the door and I was a few feet away by the parking lot with people talking in between us. He just maced me, in front of someone I though was an officer, who saw I did not approach him threateningly or anything, just calling him a little bully who pushes people around to feels strong, though I did say it very angrily.

He got other people with the mace and I started to walk away. It started to hurt so bad. I felt I had to report it and called 911 and walked to the "cop" outside and asked him the guy's name. He tried to grab my phone and said "that's it" and did nothing to protect me when the same guy who had assaulted me came out and grabbed my head and one of them broke my glasses and they told me I wasn't going anywhere. I realized he wasn't a real cop I could trust, but didn't understand the concept of off-duty cops in uniform as private bouncers.

I yelled I was not hurting anyone but I would not let them hurt me and I would wait for the real cops. I got charged with trespassing, assault, resisting arrest and disturbing the peace and I really couldn't tell if the guy was a cop or not after all that, or why he was acting like he didn't see what had happened that I wasn't threatening anyone. I was crying and on 911 asking for the macer's name when they took me down, I'm both embarrassed and proud to admit, I guess, but the idea of cops in uniform that become official only when they want authority is completely confusing.

By anon198633 — On Jul 20, 2011

The answer to this question varies depending on which state you live in. In some states, legislation specifically prohibits an officer from acting as such while not on the clock for his or her agency, emergency situations notwithstanding. The state I live in (Georgia) has recently adopted the same policy (law). As for "arrest powers", in Georgia, you effectively forfeit the right to arrest by citizen when you join a law enforcement agency.

The arrest powers generally spoken of when referring to a police officer has to do with the agency's requirement to comply with P.O.S.T. regulations. Those requirements also say that the employees conducting an arrest on behalf of that same agency must also adhere to those same regulations, i.e. be P.O.S.T certified. It's similar to the difference between carrying a weapon because of your agency affiliation and carrying on a permit issued by a court (concealed weapons permit).

By anon185184 — On Jun 10, 2011

I'm no legal expert, but I'd like to share a few thoughts on two scenarios brought up in these discussions. First of all, I believe if an off-duty officer happens to find evidence of a crime, like the marijuana in the home of the party host, he would most likely need to leave the home, report his findings to a supervisor or detective, and allow those people to pursue a legal search warrant based on his eyewitness testimony. This is a separate issue from arresting a fellow party-goer for fighting, for instance.

From what I gather, the homeowner would have protection from illegal search and seizure if the officer failed to obtain a proper search warrant before taking him into custody. Of course, the off-duty officer could probably call for reinforcements with proper warrants and safeguard the illegal material until they arrived.

On the question of an off-duty police officer forcing two theater patrons to leave because of alcohol possession, I would have to say he overstepped his authority by not reporting his observations to the theater manager/owner first. If the theater manager asked the officer to remove patrons who possessed contraband items or entered the premises illegally, then he would probably have the authority to do it. Since these two people were legal adults with the right to possess alcoholic beverages, it would only be the same level of violation as someone sneaking in candy or disturbing other theater patrons with loud conversations.

The theater should have been allowed to handle it in-house, although the extra assistance from a trained police officer would have been appreciated.

By anon177825 — On May 19, 2011

I have a real life scenario I would like to ask about. My sister and I went to a movie and decided to take a couple of beers in our purses (granted I know this is wrong and not the brightest idea). An off duty cop in plain clothes asked what we were drinking I replied "nothing" and the second time he asked, I said, "none of your business". Then he flashed his badge, asked us to step outside, for our id's (we are both in our late twenties) and then kicked us out? Can he really do that?

By anon175595 — On May 13, 2011

I have a scenario, "While off duty, and at a party, Officer "A" was asked by the homeowner to get some ice from his basement. Since the ice machine was not immediately apparent, the officer opened two different doors. Behind door number two were six marijuana plants. The officer arrested the homeowner."

Would you exclude the marijuana plants? What court cases would justify that?

By anon164023 — On Mar 30, 2011

@anon42679: you're either paranoid or you have some real troubles where you are from. i would think if you are attacked, your rights haven't changed at all.

By anon164022 — On Mar 30, 2011

In America, you don't have to be a police officer to arrest someone. You can place them under citizens arrest.

By anon157659 — On Mar 03, 2011

what is the difference between a police officer who is off duty and a criminal posing as a police officer waving a shiny badge? You have a split second to make up your mind (remembering should you stand and question this with a weapon in your hand the "said police officer is within his rights to gun you down -or at least charge you with assaulting police impossible as this is). The criminal, on the other hand, will only beat you to a pulp and steal your money. Think quick (think what?)

By anon150732 — On Feb 08, 2011

can a police officer write you a ticket for something he saw you do on his way into work?

By anon131167 — On Dec 01, 2010

off duty officers in Ohio can arrest at the party. and enforce any and all laws.

By anon124535 — On Nov 06, 2010

I'm a police officer in Georgia. The question in post number 1 - "What rights do citizens have when off duty police officers attack?" Is there some sort of epidemic of off duty police officers attacking that I don't know about? I've never been off duty and said to myself, "Self, I'm off duty, now. Attack!" Ridiculous question.

As for the post about the robbery: give me a break. Semi-automatic machine guns? And then you were able to fatally wound all three suspects as you were running? Dude, your adrenaline would have been pumping like crazy, tunnel vision would have kicked in, and the three robbers would have no doubt gone in three different directions. Not to mention that the thought of whether you wanted your wife and children to watch you kill three people no matter the circumstances would have been playing on your mind.

If the situation happened (and it sounds very suspect), I would have tried to fire if I could get any sort of sight picture, but hitting all three in vital organs is a thing of fantasy.

Finally, to the person who made the comment about shooting to injure, you are wrong. We are taught that when using lethal force, the objective is to stop the threat. The most effective way to stop the threat is to aim for center mass, which has the highest likelihood of hitting a major organ. We do not try to shoot the gun out of people's hands. We don't try to shoot them in the leg. We don't try to put two in the chest and one in the head. We simply aim for center mass. Not to kill, but to stop the threat.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you feel about it, the likelihood of killing someone while shooting center mass is high. But then that's why we call it lethal force, now isn't it?

By anon115847 — On Oct 04, 2010

Post2459SA, You're obviously not a cop. If you were, you'd know there's no such thing as a "semi-automatic machine gun." Cops know guns. You don't.

By anon112791 — On Sep 22, 2010

Actually, Pollick has written a very good article concerning this topic. This is not bad info, no matter what the Maryland deputy says.

Now, I don't know the laws of Maryland, but I can say that all county sheriffs or police chiefs I have known would have his rear in a sling if he decided to conduct an off duty traffic stop and he turned out to be wrong.

An off duty officer is taking a big risk here, and if he is one of these people that has let the badge and gun go to his head there is a good chance he will weed himself out of a job if he goes on too many power trips.

Police supervisors tend not to like loose cannons, since they are the ones that deal with the public backlash in case something went haywire and it turned out the off duty cop was just looking to arrest or cite someone for the hell of it.

By anon84497 — On May 16, 2010

anon81633 -> to further comment on anon81633 post. I am a lieutenant with a private security firm, that has been trained extensively on the civilian laws in the state of GA in regards to arrest, as I am not POST certified, i follow Chapter 16.

I, as a civilian, can make a civilian arrest for any misdemeanor or felony violation that I have direct knowledge of. There will be paperwork involved, etc., and you always have to be aware of the civilian rights that one has, but on duty or off duty, an officer can arrest for any crime committed in his presence.

Consider him a civilian or officer, it can fall under more than one law.

By anon84189 — On May 14, 2010

anon77959: First off, you sound like you know nothing about law enforcement or an officers duties. The thugs that Post2459 claims that he killed walked into a store with semi-automatic machine guns. They weren't there to sing happy birthday. They were obviously there to rob the place and possibly injure or kill citizens.

The officer who chased these thugs down and reacted to their use of force by his own should be commended. These thugs needed to be caught for this crime and whatever crime they would have done in the future.

You said to aim for non-vital areas. You don't know what you're talking about. OK, let me shoot him in the leg and see if he gives up, although that might give him the chance to shoot back at me and even kill me.

Oh and one last thing, where do you think officers get into shootings at? We don't set up a time and place like somewhere in the country for a shooting. Most if not all officers involved shootings are in public,fyi.

By DeputyDawg — On May 02, 2010

@anon67142: If you made a complaint to the deputy's Internal Affairs section and nothing was done, then you wouldn't have much of a case if you tried to press criminal charges (unless you have some kind of evidence (e.g., photographs and corroborating witnesses).

@anon67142: Assuming what the author is saying is true, the "bad guys" turned around and were shooting at him with machine guns. So, yes, he can and shall kill the bad guys. Secondly, it is illegal to shoot to maim, as you insanely suggested the officer to do.

However, the whole story is suspect because of the phrase "semi-automatic machine guns" (which, of course is an oxymoron). Machine guns, by definition, are fully-automatic.

By DeputyDawg — On May 02, 2010

@anon42679: Pollick is generally correct, except when police officers are accused of any wrong-doing they tend to the mindset of "Guilty until proven innocent".

@anon78385: Your sergeant-husband should know better than to leave unsecured firearms around the house (especially with his children there). He is absolutely, 100 percent, without a doubt, criminally and civilly liable for anything that happens to anyone (whether he is at the house or not when it happens). Police officers have gone to jail because of "accidents" that happened with their unsecured firearms.

By anon81633 — On May 02, 2010

The author of this article needs to consult with an attorney, because there are blatant untruths and misconceptions. I am a police officer (deputy sheriff) in the state of Maryland. I can arrest for any misdemeanor in my presence or felony not in my presence at any time.

If I am in my unmarked cruiser and I am in a pair of bermuda shorts and a tank-top, I can effect a traffic stop and issue citations. If I am at a party and someone becomes drunk and disorderly and starts assaulting people, I can effect an arrest; however, if it were that bad, I would just detain the offender and let the beat cop take the arrest, and he/she would summons me as a witness. Note to the author of this article: Stop giving bad information.

By anon78970 — On Apr 20, 2010

Well I'm a police officer In Wisconsin and I can arrest any time that I would believe that there is enough probable cause as if I were on duty. On and off duty means paid for it. If the officer has the legal right to do it during duty hours then he does when off duty. Now if the officer does something illegal then it would be the same as if he did the same illegal act on duty.

By anon78385 — On Apr 18, 2010

my husband is a sergeant and when he comes home he does not put his gun in a safe place. I am always asking him to put it away. We have two small children. How can I get him to be more responsible about this?

By anon77959 — On Apr 16, 2010

Post2459SA: After they ran, if you had not chased them and instead reported it, three people would not have died. Trying to rob a bakery does not equal a death penalty and also as a police officer you should have know to aim for non vital areas. Not to mention, shooting in a public area is highly dangerous and when running, your accuracy fails.

By Post2459SA — On Apr 09, 2010

I carry a concealed hand gun but i am a police officer. out of uniform a week ago my family went to a bakery and saw four guys come in, with ski masks and semi automatic machine guns. They put us all on the ground and i stood there and yelled freeze police,they ran out, and i chased them down the street and they started firing back at me so i shot and killed all three of the robbers. I was in uniform off duty. out of.

In our protocol, no matter the circumstances, if you are an off duty officer that feels that his life or anyone else's life is in danger. No matter what if the officer doesn't want to He has to those are our policies. Protect and to serve the community. This was one example.

By anon70606 — On Mar 15, 2010

my ex partner is an police officer and making my life hell. he has taken our son and we going to court but they siding with him. he lies, etc. why has he still got a job, etc.? what can i do? my solicitor is not much help.

By anon67142 — On Feb 23, 2010

my 13 year old was assaulted by an off duty sheriff. i made a report with the police department and nothing has been done. i have not been notified.

i raised my kids to respect the law and adults and everyone. i need to know where to turn. i was going to let this go but the more i think about it the more his father and i get very upset about someone slapping him in the head.

we have never laid a hand on any of our kids and never will. my son says he wants something done about it. any suggestions?

By anon54079 — On Nov 26, 2009

Isn't there also case law supporting an obligation for an off-duty police officer to take action when witnessing a crime?

By pollick — On Sep 22, 2009

When a police officer is out of uniform and not working a paid shift, he or she is generally considered a private citizen. In an ideal world, a trained police officer should have the self-discipline to not break the law while off-duty. However, things can and do go wrong, and a private citizen who has been assaulted by another private citizen has the same right to report the attack, press criminal charges or sue the offender in a civil court. Under some circumstances, the fact that the accused offender is a police officer may work to his or her advantage in the court system, but it can also be a negative because he or she should have known better than to break the same laws he or she has sworn to uphold.

By anon42679 — On Aug 23, 2009

What rights do citizens have when off duty police officers attack?

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to Historical Index, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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