reflection.gifAugust 2, 2008: The Associated Press reports that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Escalante, 27, has been shot and killed off duty. He was walking in front of his home when the drive-by shooting occurred. Witnesses heard some five shots. Escalante had been on the job for two years and was assigned to the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. The murder occurred in what the press service described as “gang-plagued” Cypress Park.

Call it Case One for this column. At the time of this writing, information has not yet been released as to whether Deputy Escalante was armed when he was killed, nor whether he might have had an opportunity to draw and shoot to save his life before the criminal gunfire ripped into him. In any case, his tragic murder underscores the fact that the year 2008 has seen an upturn in the number of American cops being shot while off-duty.

Off-Duty Options
Today, we have options of weapons that are powerful enough to stop a gunfight, shootable under stress, and small enough to carry off-duty under virtually any dress code. Back around when this writer was born, a cop who wanted to carry a .357 Mag off-duty was pretty much limited to the massive six-shot, N-frame Smith & Wesson, which even with its shortest available barrel length (3.5 inches) weighed more than 40 ounces unloaded. Today, S&W offers the splendid Model 340 M&P, a mix of Scandium and gun steel that tips the scales to only 13.3 ounces before its five .357 Mag rounds are inserted into its 1.3-inch diameter cylinder. Yes, it kicks, but it hides effortlessly in a pocket or ankle holster, and will be there when bigger guns are not.

We also have a generation of “shrunken” service autopistols that are easy to carry and remarkably concealable. If your duty weapon is a Glock, the “baby Glock” pistols are a natural choice for when you’re on your own time. They are eminently shootable. I recently shared the firing line as Wisconsin deputy sheriff David Maglio, a former Midwest Regional IDPA Champion, shot a perfect score on a demanding qualification course with his G26, the subcompact version of his department issue G17. He keeps the little one loaded with 11 rounds of department-issue Federal +P+ 9mm ammo, and carries it off-duty with well-earned confidence.

The same principle works through all of the caliber ranges. I know a municipal K9 officer in Michigan who bought a “baby” G27 to complement the full-size G22 issued by his department. He was off-duty when he had to engage an armed robbery suspect in Case Two. When the suspect tried to drag him to his death with the getaway car, the G27 saved the officer’s life, and a single round of department issue .40 ammo, the 180-grain Gold Dot, ended the life of his would-be murderer.

Are you a cop in Chicago or one of the other departments that has approved the Springfield Armory XD? If so, subcompact versions are available. I recently watched five-gun master Jon Strayer win an IDPA match with the little XD9 that has become his daily concealed carry pistol. Other makes? SIG SAUER offers a substantial line of concealed carry versions of their outstanding duty pistols. Beretta has recently introduced a subcompact version of their modern Px4 series, and also a plan that gives the officer’s family a $10,000 death benefit and unlimited grief counseling should the officer who purchased one be killed in the line of duty. Are you one of the many officers enjoying the renaissance of the 1911 pistol in American police service? Colt, Kimber, Springfield Armory, Para USA and others offer lightweight subcompacts in this format, chambered for 9mm through .45 calibers.

Full-Size Carry
Qualifying recently with a police instructor from Europe who was visiting the US, I was reminded that in other countries, police services limit off-duty carry and often require their officer in that situation to conceal the full-size issue piece instead of a smaller gun of his own. As America’s service handguns have become lighter, this has become a very viable concept here, too. A full-size Glock is no bigger than that popular concealed carry gun of yesteryear, the Colt Commander, and is even lighter, thanks to its polymer frame. The New York State Police issued full-size G17s and later G37s in .45GAP to even its plainclothes personnel, who had little problem carrying them concealed on- and off-duty.

With today’s comfortable, well-designed concealment holsters, even full-size all-steel guns can be carried effectively under all conditions. In Case Three, California lawman Dean Caputo was off-duty with some friends when they were attacked by gun-armed gang-bangers. Caputo was wearing a Colt Government Model .45 automatic in one of Ted Blocker’s LFI Concealment Rigs. He drew from the inside-the-waistband holster and instantly engaged. In the furious shootout that ensued, Caputo won the day, putting several of the offenders on (and some, in) the ground.

At Home
In Case Four, famed Calibre Press “Street Survival” instructor Bob Willis was a police investigator when vengeful gang-bangers attacked his home en masse. Willis’ judicious resort to a Remington 870 12 gauge pump gun, and his skill with that classic police tool, saved the day and saved his life and the lives of his family. We can never forget that cops’ homes are invaded too, and in today’s high-tech world, cyber-savvy criminals with revenge on their mind can track down where we live.

Case Five occurred in another part of greater Los Angeles, Woodland Hills, the day before Deputy Escalante’s murder. Multiple armed home invaders kicked down the door of a residence, and were met with gunfire from an armed 20-something resident. He killed one of the assailants and put the rest to flight, saving the lives of his brother and parents. “Unfortunately, it’s very rare,” said LAPD Sgt. Jeff Nuttall when describing the resident’s successful rout of multiple armed home invaders.

Once the shooting starts, long guns are obviously more effective. If you are one of the many law officers in this country who brings a privately owned, department approved patrol rifle to work every day, consider keeping the gun secured and ready in the master bedroom when you’re at home.

Even if the duty schedule only has you down for 40 hours a week, officer safety is a 24/7 concern. This column is dedicated to the memory of Deputy Juan Escalante, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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