The Cleveland Police Department is the first law enforcement agency to challenge an NFL policy banning off-duty officers from carrying their firearms into any of the league’s 32 stadiums.
“A police officer is never happy to give up his service weapon, especially when we have the right to carry it, you know, 24 hours, seven days a week, and we’re upheld by our oath, too, to protect and serve the public on or off duty,” Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, told Cleveland TV station WOIO 19 Action News on Oct. 4.
Since Cleveland police officers, like those in many other law enforcement agencies, are required to carry their firearms at all times, including when off-duty, the prohibition essentially means police officers cannot attend Cleveland Browns’ games unless they are on duty.
“We are police officers 24/7,” Follmer said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to disarm a police officer.”
But that’s precisely what the NFL did when it issued a new policy on Sept. 11 that banned all off-duty federal, state and local law enforcement officers from bringing firearms into any NFL facility. The policy only allows law enforcement officers “specifically assigned to work security at the games, or private security officers contracted for stadium protection” to carry a gun.
The NFL claims the new policy would “enhance” fans enjoyment of games. There was no indication from the league why it felt the policy was necessary.
“The likelihood there’s a need for the use of deadly force by an off-duty officer is extremely remote,” Jeffrey Miller, head of NFL security, told WOIO 19, noting that each game generally has about 250 armed, uniformed officers on duty.
True, Follmer said, before adding, “You never know what’s gonna happen, or when it’s gonna happen.” Which, he said, is the reason why off-duty police officers in Cleveland and many other cities are required to carry their firearms at all times.
The ban will, eventually, be challenged in court, writes Steven H. Ahle in an Oct. 6 Examiner.com blog.
“The NFL could open themselves to lawsuits over this,” he writes. “Someone could make the argument that the NFL is now responsible for not preventing criminal acts by patrons. And if the police are called to break up a situation, could they refuse to on the grounds that their guns aren’t permitted?”
Ahle notes that the NFL policy may also violate the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004, which allows qualified law enforcement officers to carry their gun in all 50 states, regardless of state and local laws.
“There is an exception for private property owners who want to ban weapons,” he notes.
And that, ultimately, is what the matter could come down to: Property rights v. public safety.
As of mid-day on Oct. 7, polls posted on Cleveland.com and BizPacReview.com, were decidedly for public safety and against the NFL’s ban.
Debate on the NFL’s new policy has also raised questions about police department policies that require officers to carry their department-issued firearms even while off-duty.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends that departments make it optional for off-duty officers to carry guns.
The must-carry policy “boils down to the whole dated concept that a cop was a cop 24 hours a day. New York and many other places have become much more realistic,” Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York police officer and lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the Baltimore Sun in an article about possible changes to that city’s longstanding must-carry policy.