New CenturyLink gun policy riles law enforcement

SEATTLE -- Company officials say the decision to ban firearms at CenturyLink Field is a safety issue, but the move has touched a nerve with many local law enforcement agents.

CenturyLink management has decided that off-duty officers going to events at CenturyLink as fans can no longer bring guns through the gates.

That move isn't sitting well with many officers, who say bringing their weapons to events while off duty is part of their job to protect and serve, even as spectators.

On game day, more than 60,000 Seahawks fans pour into CenturyLink Field. Among the crowd are off-duty officers there to enjoy the game and, until recently, those fans were allowed to carry firearms.

Officer Erik Wickman is a member of the State Fraternal Order of Police. He said the decision was a tough blow and said he's dismayed there was no conversation before the policy was introduced.

In a letter to law enforcement, CenturyLink's general manager said the decision is in the best interest of public safety, writing, "We currently have an abundance of uniformed police officers working every event at the stadium and we feel that CenturyLink Field is perhaps one of the safest venues ..."

That explanation isn't good enough for Wickman.

"The reality is you can have all the uniformed officers you want, but the criminals will be able to identify them and avoid the areas where they are," he said.

The change comes after two unarmed and off-duty Bellevue Police officers were kicked out of the stadium last season for unruly behavior.

Many officers work in units that require them to remain armed at all times. The other concern for off-duty police is that they're recognizable and could be vulnerable during games, never knowing when they might see someone they've arrested.

While many officers are upset about the new policy, some civilians believe it's the right thing to do.

"I guess my first thought is that they should be required to do whatever the average citizen can do, and if the average citizen isn't allowed to take a concealed weapon in then I'm not sure police officers should be either," said Erica Rintoul.

The president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild said the policy is "misguided" and "insulting." He said department policy allows officers to use their discretion when to carry while off duty.

"From the moment we graduate the academy we have the tools we need to make those decisions and take action if necessary, and all of us -- without exception -- hope we never ever have to do that, but we need to be ready if it happens and when it happens," Wickman said.