A North Texas police officer was charged with murder after shooting two teenagers while off duty. One of those teenagers died, the other was hospitalized. The Farmers Branch Police Department says the officer broke protocol by chasing the teens in his personal vehicle and ramming into them.
There are few details about exactly what happened after the chase that preceded the shooting. Two investigations are ongoing to figure that out – one by Farmers Branch Police, the other by the neighboring city of Addison.
But all of this brings up other questions. What is the role of an off-duty police officer? What should you do if confronted by one?
Jerry Staton is a retired police officer who now works in the private sector training law enforcement professionals. He says different precincts have different policies for off-duty police officers, but most that he’s aware of request that the officer act as a good witness, without intervening. If the situation includes bodily injury or potential death, Staton says the officer may take action, but only in severe emergencies.
Uniformed police officers have a variety of equipment at their disposal – tasers, pepper spray, body armor and firearms. But an off-duty officer doesn’t have those resources available to them, except possibly a gun.
“That’s why most agencies says ‘We don’t really want you being a police officer off-duty,'” Staton says. “You have no back up. You have no communication. You don’t have all of your stuff. You’re not readily identifiable. ”
Staton says civilians who are approached by off-duty officers should keep in mind a few different things.
“It certainly would be a tense situation for most citizens to be confronted that way,” Staton says. “The general best advice is to go someplace very public, if there’s not a lot of people around. Get on your cell phone and dial 9-1-1 while you’re in route to that location if can you do so. But I wouldn’t say don’t … talk to the person. Because if the situation were very calm and you weren’t doing anything wrong, and you didn’t feel threatened or challenged by this person coming up to you, go ahead at talk to them like anybody else.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.