By LE ROY STANDISH
Friday, February 27, 2009
Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland favors arming county staff as a deterrent to threats.
“They need to get a conceal-carry permit,” Rowland said during a commission study session with county attorney Lyle Dechant, regarding recent security threats at the Old Mesa County Court House, 544 Rood Ave.
Her comment initially was laughed off. She then followed it with: “It would take care of it.”
A day after the meeting, Rowland was asked to elaborate.
“I don’t think we should be giving out guns to them. I am not saying that,” Rowland said. “What I am saying is that if employees have a concealed-carry permit, and they feel safer having a gun, I am OK with that. I don’t think we should prohibit them from having a gun.”
Rowland said neither the courthouse nor any other public place should be off limits to handguns in the possession of properly licensed individuals.
“In my opinion there is no gun-free zone because the bad guys always have a gun,” she said. “That right shouldn’t end when they come to work.”
It was Commissioner Steve Acquafresca who initially broached the subject of courthouse security Wednesday. He expressed concern over an incident a week ago on the third floor of the Old Mesa County Courthouse, where the commissioners and the county administrator have their offices. An upset county resident made the clerk feel so threatened she clandestinely sent an e-mail to Rowland, who was in her office on the third floor at the time, while the man stood in front of her desk.
Rowland said she did not know what to do and called Mesa County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin. Deputies arrived within minutes, but by then the man was gone.
“It wasn’t the first time (a county employee was faced with a security threat),” Acquafresca said. “It won’t be the last time.”
County Administrator Jon Peacock said: “It happens from time to time.” He said he has had to walk several people down the stairs and out the building in the past because county staff felt threatened.
County Commissioner Craig Meis urged everyone in the room to put everything in perspective. Meis said the county treasurer’s office and motor vehicle division have incidents multiple times every day.
“We got to keep it in relation to other departments and areas,” Meis said. “They are more at risk.”
Angela Luedtke, an assistant county attorney, told the commissioners the clerks do have panic buttons and some training. She added, however, it had been some time since that training had been reinforced or updated.
“We actually do have an emergency plan for this building. We should be testing it once or twice a year,” Luedtke said.
“I think our employees deserve that,” Acquafresca said.
Dechant said with the economy the way it is, some county residents might be under an abnormal amount of stress, and security threats could become more prevalent. He suggested training county staff in proper protocol to deal with security threats and told the commission the training could be accomplished.