01/03/2013

Denny's manager: On-duty officers can't carry guns in restaurant

Ill. Chief bans officers from eating at restaurant after 5 plain-clothed officers told they were making customers 'uncomfortable'

By Joe Holleman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Police here have less than a sunny-side-up view of a local Denny’s.

The Belleville police chief banned his officers from the eatery while on duty after several detectives were told they couldn’t carry their guns in the restaurant, but Denny’s says the incident stemmed from a misunderstanding.

The incident began about 10 a.m. Tuesday when five Belleville detectives went into the Denny’s at 1130 South Illinois Street, ordered food and began to eat. The detectives had badges on their belts or on chains around their necks, but they weren’t in uniform.

Belleville Capt. Donald Sax said restaurant manager David Rice then approached and told one of the detectives that a diner had complained about seeing one of the detectives carrying a gun.

Even though the detective told Rice all at the table were police officers, Rice insisted the detectives take their guns back out to their cars, Sax said.

According to Sax, Rice then told the officers that it is company policy to allow only uniformed officers to carry their guns into a restaurant and that a sign on the door stated that policy.

The officers all got up to leave, refusing to pay for their meal. As they were leaving, Sax said a Denny’s general manager, Michael Van, approached the group. He told them Rice was wrong and it was fine for them to stay and to keep their guns.

The detectives, whom Sax described as “embarrassed” by the incident, decided to leave anyway. Sax said the detectives made a point to check the door on their way out.

“There was no sign on the door (regarding firearms),” Sax said. “They all looked for it.”

Belleville Police Chief William Clay later issued an order to his troops, banning them from eating at that Denny’s when they are on duty or when they’re off duty and still in uniform. Off-duty and out of uniform, officers can eat where they want.

Belleville police also issued a press release, naming the managers and pinning the incident on “political stupidness.”

“This was an insult, a slap in the face to those detectives and to all of the men and women who proudly wear the uniform or badge and serve in law enforcement,” Clay said in the press release.

Of course, officers will still show up if Denny’s calls for some kind of emergency, police said.

The Denny’s managers, Rice and Van, were not available for comment. Corporate spokesperson Liz DiTrapano called the situation “a misunderstanding” and said there is no ban on armed officers.

“Obviously, all law enforcement officers are permitted to carry their firearms in our restaurants,” she said.

Belleville police said they would be following up with Denny’s management about the restaurant’s policies.

At the Belleville restaurant on Wednesday, diners’ views on the incident varied.

John Carrigan, 72, of rural Washington County, Ill., said he understood the concern some diners at Denny’s might have had. “I’d have been scared to see a woman walk in with a gun nowadays with all the shootings,” he said.

But Mike Wieland, 51, of Bluford, Ill., sided with the officers. “The police should be able to carry their weapons everywhere they go,” Wieland said.

Reprinted with permission from St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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