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by Peter Moskos

June 16, 2009

Off-duty action

I was required to carry my gun off duty within the city limits and permitted to carry (and did) within the State of Maryland. So yes, I carried my Glock 17 when I went jogging and when I took out the trash.

Generally it's strongly discouraged for police to take action off-duty (in the next post there are some comments on the subject). But deep down the city seems to like the idea of off-duty cops being like plain-clothes cops working for free. It's one of the reason many police don't like to live in the city they work.

Outside of people pissing in my alley (which happened to be the only way I could enter my apartment), I rarely if ever took police action off-duty.

One time I parked outside Whitey’s Newsstand on Broadway--I had a little side-business buying and selling vintage 1960s “adult” books (ie: smut paperbacks)--and a well-dressed hispanic guy came up to me offering to sell me weed. I think it was something about the TransAm I drove that made people think I was a good target.

I politely showed him my badge and gun and in no uncertain terms told him how that was very bad idea. But I didn’t take any police action. I didn't want the hassle. But it sure would have been an easy lockup. He apologized and explained how he “didn’t mean any disrespect.”

And one time in Brooklyn, New York, I badged a bum harassing a female bartender. That is the type of situation you don’t want to escalate, because I was unarmed and without any police power. But the bluff worked and he quickly left the bar.

But I think the highlight of my off-duty police action was taking a beer away from some crazy belligerent fat lady on the bus.

When I was about to get on the bus a lady got off and said, “Hallelujah! It’s a zoo in there.” The Number 10 bus often was. In the back of the bus, a woman was going on and on, shouting and yelling about everything in general and white people in particular. She would end a few comments by saying: “Bet that scared all you white people!”

She asked a lady she seemed to know for $2 but didn’t get it. Then she popped a 40. I was dressed for court downtown. Without a word, I went up to her, showed my badge, took her bottle and deposited it outside the bus.

"I knew he was police!” she shouted, almost with glee.

I thought with the smug satisfaction that came from knowing she didn’t have money to buy another: “Oh, no, you di’int!”


Richard P. said...

St. Louis requires policy officers to live in the city limits.

PCM said...

Boston and Chicago have residency requirements as well.

Richard P. said...

Police! I wonder if they require policy officers too?

Anonymous said...

What is the reasoning behind residency requirements, and do they have the effect they are intended to have?


PCM said...

There are a few reasons behind residency requirement.

Police-wise, there's the idea that police who live in the city understand the city and its residents a little better. Even though police tend to congregate in certain areas (think Jefferson Park in Chicago or Staten Island in NYC), I don't think it can hurt.

By no means do I think you need to live in the city to be a good police officer, but I do think that police officers who have never lived in the city are at a disadvantage.

And there is something a little strange and mercenary-like to tax people in the city to pay people from outside the city (who generally hate the city) to lock up people in the city.

The downside to a residency requirement is that the more you limit your pool of potential employees, the worse quality you're going to get. It's inevitable. The question is whether this trade off is worth it.

Policy-wise, and this applies to all city employees and not just police, there's the simple idea that if the city pays your salary, it wants your money--spending and real-estate tax in particular--to stay in the city.

Cities need a strong middle class and since the city is usually the biggest employers, it makes sense to keep these middle class employees in the city.

Needless to say, most employees hate the idea of being told where they can and can't live. Understandable, certainly. But for my tax dollars, residency requirements seem fair to me. Nobody is forcing you to work for the city.

And I generally think that if a city can get away with a residency requirement (and still get enough good applicants), it's good for the city.