Posted 11/24/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The Tioga Police Department raised strong objections at the last commission meeting over a policy that forbids employees from carrying weapons, with the exception of sworn police officers.
Police Chief Larry Maize explained it’s been regular practice for all law enforcement personnel to carry weapons on duty, even dispatchers.
“Sometimes these girls are in there by themselves late at night, and we don’t have a secure area,” Maize told the commission.
The problem for the city is the need to protect itself from liabilities stemming from the use of weapons by city employees who are not authorized by the city’s own policies to carry firearms.
The city also would leave itself vulnerable to lawsuits if its policies are not enforced consistently.
In another area of the city’s employee handbook, the policy is worded in such a way to create exceptions for all police personnel. The city wants to make the policies consistent.
The commission isn’t proposing to prohibit police personnel from carrying weapons, but the threat the city might take such a course was enough to create a lot of concern among the department’s employees.
“There are people we deal with every day that I don’t feel comfortable coming to work without my sidearm,” said Amanda Moser, who is a dispatcher, court clerk, and reserve officer for the department.
She has been in law enforcement for 14 years, but threatened to resign if the city prohibited her from carrying her sidearm.
Commissioner John Grubb expressed concern over what liabilities the city would face should an incident result from an unsworn officer using a weapon while on duty.
Police Administrator Jeff Spivey said all police personnel are trained and carry a $2 million insurance policy.
Maize, a certified instructor, said the training is the same for all members of the department, and he conducts the courses himself. And they receive yearly certifications.
Police Lt. Sean Duisen said all members of the department also have concealed carry licenses.
Commissioner Todd Thompson asked if the department keeps documentation on the training, as to who has completed it, what it entails, and when it is completed.
Maize said they do and produced the documentation for one employee in the department to substantiate the claim.
City Attorney Ben Johnson asked how the city would write a policy that differentiates who can and can’t carry weapons, as anyone could receive such training.
While the police department personnel are receiving training, he said a policy that permits trained employees to carry weapons would basically permit even auditors to wear a sidearm.
Johnson stressed the issue is how to create a consistent, enforceable policy.
“Nobody came in here to take your guns away,” Johnson said.
The issue for the department is the lack of security in the facility. In most police departments, personnel carry out their duties in locked areas, with security cameras and bullet-proof glass.
Maize said when officers take suspects to the county jail, there’s a procedure to follow in which side arms are secured before escorting a prisoner inside.
There’s no practical way to do that with the facilities they currently have at city hall.
“The only secure place in this whole building is the evidence locker,” Maize said.
Even opening the front door is a risky venture for the police personnel, Maize explained. When someone knocks, personnel have no way to know who is there without opening the door. There are no security cameras or even a peep hole.
The commission decided there are enough complications to the issue that the commission needs time to develop the answers.
They voted last week to table any changes to the policy until a committee meets to discuss the issue further and make recommendations.
Johnson, Maize, and Commissioners Heather Weflen and Ronda Davidson will serve on the committee.
Weflen said, after the meeting, the committee should be able to come up with a recommendation that will address all those concerned, but the recommendation must balance the needs of consistent, sound policies with the safety of all employees and the community.
“I think we can come to some agreement,” Weflen said.