Denny's: Open 24/7 -- unless you're a Belleville police officer with a weapon

News-DemocratJanuary 2, 2013 

— Police Chief William Clay has banned all on-duty police officers from eating at Denny's Restaurant on South Illinois Street after a detective was asked to remove her gun or leave the restaurant on New Year's Day.

"All sworn (uniformed/non-uniformed) officers have been prohibited from entering Denny's Restaurant at 1130 South Illinois for any meal or coffee breaks while on duty," Clay said in a released statement. "Additionally, no officers may enter the restaurant off-duty if in uniform."

Calls for service by Denny's will continue to receive the appropriate law enforcement response from the Belleville Police Department, Clay said.

A local manager at Denny's reached by phone Wednesday declined to comment about the incident.

A spokeswoman for Denny's Corp. Liz DiTrapano said in response to a concern raised by a guest about a customer with a firearm, the manager approached the individual and communicated that Denny's policy does not permit firearms in the restaurant.

"Upon further discussion, we became aware the individual was a plain-clothed police officer," DiTrapano said in a statement. "Denny's policy permits law enforcement officials to carry their firearms in the restaurant, and we regret any misunderstanding."

Belleville Police Capt. Don Sax said five on-duty detectives were eating about 10 a.m. Tuesday when restaurant manager David Rice approached and advised a female detective that she needed to take her weapon, which was visible to patrons, out to her car or leave the restaurant.

Sax said the other four detectives initially thought Rice was joking with the female detective until she told Rice that she was a police officer and that all persons present at the table were police officers.

According to police, Rice stated he had a complaint from another customer about the weapon and she had to take the weapon outside or leave. Other detectives advised Rice they were on-duty Belleville police detectives.

Sax said the manager notified them company policy dictates only officers in uniform may have weapons, and Rice went on to state there was a sign on the door indicating weapons were only allowed in the restaurant if officers were in uniform.

The detectives asked Rice whether he wanted them to stop eating and they were told they could take their food with them. Sax said the detectives advised the manager they would not leave weapons outside while on duty and stood up to leave.

As the detectives were leaving the restaurant, Sax said General Manager Michael Van walked up and advised Rice it was fine for the detectives to be in the restaurant.

"At this point, the detectives were embarrassed and felt the situation was entirely too awkward for them to remain and all left the restaurant," Sax said.

Sax said there was no sign posted on the door of the restaurant stating police officers must be in uniform if they have a weapon.

At the time of the incident, all the detectives were wearing plain clothes, according to Sax. He said three of the detectives had their badges clipped on their belt next to their duty weapon, and the other two had their badges hanging from a chain around their necks, all in plain sight. There were also several portable police radios on the table for the working detectives to monitor other police activities.

Clay was notified by Capt. John Moody, chief of investigations, about the incident at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, which was a holiday.

"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. "This individual (Rice) was the manager of Denny's. He therefore speaks for Denny's, in my mind.

"This policy effectively prohibits on-duty sworn police officers from dining in a Denny's Restaurant, but allows 'registered sex offenders,' 'felons' and or 'pedophiles' to enjoy a dining experience in Denny's," he said. "While I am appalled at this policy, I am sadly not shocked by it. We see so much political stupidness carried out in this day and age. I am hopeful that this incident reflects on the poor judgment of one individual and not the Denny's restaurant chain."

Word about the incident involving the Belleville police detectives circulated rapidly Tuesday and Wednesday on social media sites such as Facebook.

"I had hoped to meet privately with members of Denny's management on a regional level to discuss this policy and share our views," Clay said. "However in today's world of instant social media, such events are difficult if not impossible to resolve confidentially."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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