The rights and responsibilities of an off-duty police officer

Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images

In most careers, when you punch out for the day, you leave the responsibilities of your job behind -- until the next time you punch back in. Police officers do not have that luxury. Even when they are off duty, they are still bound by the rules and regulations set forth by the department they're employed by.


Officers in most jurisdictions, even when off-duty, are expected to be armed and to exercise their authority when necessary. If an officer has consumed alcoholic or any intoxicating beverage, then they are prohibited from carrying a weapon. If an officer decides to consume alcohol, then they must secure their weapon off the premises where the alcohol will be consumed. If drinking is to take place at the officer's personal residence, then the weapons must also be secured.

Minor Violations

While off-duty, a police officer is responsible for immediately reporting any suspected or observed criminal activity to an on-duty officer. Although the off-duty officer still has police powers, those powers should not be used to enforce minor violations. The officer should contact on-duty personnel. Unless operating a marked police vehicle, an off-duty officer cannot arrest or issue citations or warnings to traffic violators on sight, except when the violation is of such a dangerous nature that officers would reasonably be expected to take appropriate action.

Serious Violations

An off-duty officer should only use powers of arrest when there is an immediate need to prevent a crime or apprehend a suspect -- and the officer has in his possession appropriate police identification. The officer must not be personally involved in the incident. The officer shall not use their police powers to resolve personal grievances, except under circumstances that would justify the use of self-defence, actions to prevent injury to another person, or when a serious offence has been committed that would justify an arrest.


Police officers should behave in a manner that does not bring discredit to their departments or themselves. A police officer's character and conduct should always be exemplary and beyond reproach. An officer should always heed obedience to the same laws he or she is entrusted to enforce. The officer must have accountability, responsibility, and discipline for their behaviours, both on and off duty. Officers also need to be accountable for any prohibited associations they have.