EXCLUSIVE: Asst. DC police chief backs off-duty officers with guns

- Since the Paris terrorist attacks on a theater, we’ve all been more aware of soft targets here in the District. 

FOX 5 Chief Investigative Reporter Emily Miller recently uncovered that off-duty D.C. police officers were turned away from going to a show at the Warner Theatre for carrying their guns. Now, in an exclusive interview, Assistant D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham is weighing in on the controversy and the risk of active shooters.

Newsham told FOX 5 that he disagrees with the Warner Theatre’s policy. He said that his officers are not required to carry their guns when they are off duty, but some do it because they want to help protect the public at all times.

“My hat’s off to those officers who are willing to do that because that can be very inconvenient for officers because they’re out there with their family, with their friends, and they’re still willing to respond to help people,” said Newsham.

The assistant chief was not happy to hear our report that off-duty police officers who took their families to the Warner Theatre last month were told they could not enter with their guns.

“I think it’s unfortunate that there are private businesses here in the District of Columbia that wouldn't allow our off-duty members to carry their firearms,” Newsham said.

The Warner Theatre’s policy is that off-duty law enforcement cannot have a gun inside. Howard Theatre is the only other one in the District with the no-gun policy for law enforcement.

The Kennedy Center, which is also federal property, allows active duty law enforcement to carry. The National Theatre, near the White House, also allows it. And the Verizon Center has officers register their guns at the gate, but they can carry inside.

Newsham said every active shooter situation is different, but he explained that the public is safer when armed police are on the scene.

“When an active shooter is confronted with law enforcement, they turn to a defensive mode. So they’re no longer trying to just kill people, they are trying to defend themselves, so their target turns away from the general public towards the officers,” said Newsham.

He said the nation’s capital will always be a target for terrorists, but the city is well protected.

“We have more law enforcement officers in our city than most other cities,” Newsham said. “You’re almost always going to have an immediate police response.”

D.C. police used to be required to carry off-duty, but Newsham talked to the general counsel and said it is now a personal choice.

“It’s up to the officer what they want to do. I think if you talk to most of our officers, when they are off duty, they will carry because they are committed to helping people,” said Newsham.

FOX 5’s Emily Miller told the Warner Theatre about the assistant chief’s comments to see if they had altered their policy, but they said no. The policy states that no one with a weapon, including law enforcement, can enter the building. They said they have armed security of their own.

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