It sounds like the beginning of a hilarious joke: an off-duty police officer walks into a bar. However, there is nothing funny about assault. There are several issues involved when off-duty police officers break the law.
Is an Officer Ever Truly Off-Duty?
In most areas, a police officer retains authority to enforce the law even when off-duty. They may identify themselves as an officer and then act within the scope of their duties, including physically restraining someone and making an arrest. However, this is discouraged unless there is an emergency situation. Many police officers prefer to make a citizen’s arrest and wait for on-duty law enforcement to arrive and handle the situation.
However, the instance of a bar fight rarely involves an officer acting in their professional role. Rather, they are acting as a citizen, one that is breaking the law. Nonetheless, this can have serious consequences for their career.
Consequences of an Off-Duty Bar Fight
An off-duty police officer is subject to the same laws as any other citizen. If they start a fight, they can and should be charged with assault, battery, drunk and disorderly behavior, or whatever charges would apply if they were not a police officer.
In addition, they can be disciplined for Officer Off-Duty Misconduct. This will involve an internal investigation and, if the officer is found guilty, discipline such as suspension, demotion, or being fired. This process is usually not initiated unless a citizen makes a complaint, so the person who was assaulted should take their story to the officer’s supervisor.
A Privileged Position
Certain professions are given special privileges and thus are subject to higher standards of behavior. Police officers are allowed a great deal of authority over citizens, so it is important that they have high levels of honor, beneficence, and self-control. An officer who gets into bar fights, even off-duty, is showing they do not have the qualities necessary to act fairly and lawfully when on-duty. In addition, seeing off-duty officers act illegally reduces the public trust in law enforcement.
If you or someone you know has been in a bar fight started by an off-duty police officer, it is important to press charges and to complain to the department about the misconduct. Civil damages may also apply. Police officers are held to a higher standard of behavior due to the demands of their profession.