Police departments nationwide are scaling back long-standing policies requiring officers to carry their weapons around the clock, says the Associated Press. A civil rights lawsuit brought by the mother of a slain black officer in Rhode Island could hasten the trend. “Always armed, always on duty” policies require officers to respond to crimes even when they’re not working, and keep their guns with them at all times. The policy has been blamed for the deaths of a handful of officers killed when their colleagues mistook them for suspects.
Supporters say the policy is one of policing’s oldest traditions and that arming off-duty officers protects them from crooks bent on revenge. Such a policy is at the center of a $20 million civil rights lawsuit being heard this month in Providence, where Sgt. Cornel Young Jr. was shot dead five years ago by two white colleagues while he was off duty and trying to break up a fight. Young’s mother, Leisa Young, says the rookie officer who shot her son was not adequately trained to recognize colleagues who were off duty or in plain clothes. The FBI says that 43 police officers since 1987 have been killed by friendly fire. Some were caught in crossfire, or killed by firearms mishaps. A handful, like Young, were mistaken for criminals and shot by fellow officers. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has called “always on duty” policies a costly tradition. The group recommends that off-duty officers who witness a crime call for assistance rather than pulling a weapon.