FOREST PARK — Forest Park city employees who are not police officers cannot bring their firearms onto city property, after the City Council voted 4-1 on the ban. The vote follows concerns about employee firearms in the Public Works and Fire and Emergency Services departments. Councilman Allan Mears was the lone vote against the ban. Employees must lock their firearms in their cars while on city property.
The move comes after a police investigation cleared a Public Works supervisor of “intent” after he allegedly bought a gun, brought it back in a city truck, showed it off to employees and made comments implying he’d use it on a coworker. The employee was not terminated because no policy was in place at the time.
In addition, Mayor Angelyne Butler and Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells had questioned why Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts had not asked permission before his department started locking up unloaded weapons in station houses.
Akins-Wells made a motion to consider option two, the outright ban, which Councilman Dabouze Antoine seconded.
Mears said, “I’d like to make a recommendation that we take option one,” which would have allowed city employees with valid Georgia Weapons Carry Licenses to bring their weapons onto city property with permission from their department head and the city manager.
“The current motion on the floor is for option two,” Mayor Angelyne Butler said. “Is there any other discussion?”
“Yes,” Antoine replied. “This is one of these topics that we should take serious. With all the work bullying that is going on, with all the school shooting, with all the work shootings that are going on within our country, I would not want anything premeditated or accidental to happen in this city.” Antoine said armed employees could get distracted from their duties. “I support option two, and moving the city forward, we should not be discussing about guns.”
Mears, who said he’s had a Georgia Weapons Carry License for 55 years, said Fire Department employees are in a different position because of their overnight hours and long commutes. “It’s not like a 9 to 5 job over here that where I feel like the pressure’s coming from to do away with the guns.” He added firefighters and paramedics do not carry firearms while on duty.
“If you travel these streets, Forest Park included, all over Atlanta, Southside, Northside, Eastside, Westside, if you’re out in that kind of environment any time of night, you’d better have something besides a stick to help yourself get around, because you will be a victim,” Mears said. “And these criminals that are out there now know who to pick on. So I disagree with the (option) two and would like to say that I’m in favor of (option) one, which is irrelevant but I just wanted to have my say.”
Wells said she agreed with Mears in terms of people needing guns for protection, “but those incidents happen outside the job. The rules that we set are for every department, not just some.” She said letting employees pack on city property would “also say to the deputy director that feels a need to go and purchase a gun on city time, in a city vehicle, and pull it out around city employees, and say what he wanted to do with it, that would be saying that it’s OK. It’s not. So if you want to keep them in their vehicle while they’re on city property, that’s fine. We’re not trying to dictate that. We’re trying to protect our employees. And so the rules apply to the Fire Department just as to any other department. The only people who should have guns in a city vehicle or city building are police officers. So if you want to carry a gun, then go apply for the police.”
Gutierrez agreed, saying he had a soft spot for police and firefighters but that it wouldn’t be fair to make an exception for one department. “We cannot have what happened (at Public Works) happen on the city’s time,” he said. “This is unacceptable. This is not the Wild, Wild West back in the day. This is 2020.”
Antoine speculated that an armed paramedic or firefighter could have an accidental discharge while transporting a patient. Chief Eddie Buckholts had told the council at its last meeting that no firefighter or paramedic would ever be allowed to carry a firearm while on duty under his command. Forest Park Police reports support Buckholts’ claim that break-ins dropped after his department started locking up employees’ unloaded pistols inside the station houses.
After the meeting, Councilwoman Kimberly James said she voted for the ban because “We did not have a policy in place. And because we didn’t have a policy in place, there was no repercussions to what happened (in Public Works), and so that was really the main driver. Councilmembers were upset that there was nothing that really could be done because we didn’t have a policy in place.”
James said “I would think that if they made a decision to bring their personal weapons with them in their vehicles and something like that happens again, that they could come to the council and say, ‘look, this is what’s happening, and we don’t want to leave our guns at home,’” James said. “I appreciate Chief Buckholts making the executive decision that he did, because we didn’t have a policy in place.”
James said she wasn’t worried about the possibility of criminals breaking into cars in front of City Hall as a result of the policy. “I don’t think it’s an issue at all. We had one isolated incident that happened at the city (Public Works) and we didn’t have a policy in place for it. So I think people are making more of it than it is.”