Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

What can and can't off-duty officers do?

by Take Two®

99403 full
Anaheim Community Policing Team Officer Jesse Romero, center, walks with colleagues in the Guinida Lane neighborhood in Anaheim Thursday. Stuart Palley for KPCC

Authorities are investigating a case in Anaheim that erupted between neighbors. But one of them is a police officer. 

A scuffle broke out in front of an LAPD officer's home when that cop, who was off-duty at the time, confronted a group of teenagers allegedly walking across his lawn.

That officer pulled his gun from his waistband and fired a shot.

No one was hit.

You can see the full video below (Warning: Contains strong language):

It's unclear whether or not the teenagers knew the man was an off-duty cop.

Even if they did, how far do the powers of an off-duty officer go?

Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, offers some advice.

Someone claims they are an off-duty police officer. Can you ask that person for their ID and badge number as proof?

You're certainly entitled to ask. ... But it's not clear that off-duty officer has to immediately identify themselves.

If an officer's uniformed and on-duty, they're required to carry a badge with a badge number. Obviously there are exceptions for that if they are in plain clothes.

But for an off-duty officer, it's really unclear.

Can an off-duty officer use all the authority and tools given to them by their department as if they were on duty? 

Police officers, even while off-duty, have the authority to make arrests as if they were on-duty and the authority to carry a concealed weapon.

What are some examples of limits of things they can't dowhen off duty?

The department they work for can say, you can't carry a concealed weapon or you can't make arrests when you're off-duty.

But beyond that, the law is not particularly clear.

There are some circumstances where it's clear. For example, a lot of police officers work off-duty as security guards, and there's a pretty detailed body of law about what's okay and what's not when they're working for a private entity.

If an off-duty officer is a party to an altercation like this one in Anaheim, is their word and account of a situation treated differently in an investigation and in court?

In theory, no. The credibility of any witness should be assessed, but the other thing that we're seeing in this investigation is, of course, police officers are given deference by other police officers and investigating agencies.

Here we have what amounts to a dispute among neighbors about what was said. In that situation, the Anaheim police department arrested the two youths and let the officer go home.

That raises serious questions about whether that was the appropriate handling. 

Even if an officer has the authority to, for example, make an arrest, is it a reasonable thing to do if an officer is escalating an incident about kids walking across their yard?

This isn't a situation where they were intervening to stop an armed robbery or a violent crime. 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy Take Two®? Try KPCC’s other programs.

What's popular now on KPCC