Some Polk County employees may soon have the ability to be armed while in the workplace if some Polk County Commissioners get their way.
Commissioners, spurred by the recent mass shooting in a government building in Virginia, are considering changing a policy that bans weapons in the workplace and they have planned a sit-down with Polk Sheriff Grady Judd to talk about it.
Commissioners John Hall and Rick Wilson both said this week that they are concerned about the safety of the county's 2,000 employees and want to see if those employees with concealed carry permits could be allowed to do so while they are in the workplace.
Hall said the recent shooting in Virginia Beach's government center that left 12 dead and four wounded gave him pause. There is already a sheriff's deputy on duty daily at the county's administration building in Bartow.
“This building alone has six different entrances and most require an entry card, but that may not stop someone who's bent on something,” Hall said.
Hall also said there were no metal detectors at any entrances to the main operations building, or any of Polk’s dozens of other smaller facilities countywide.
Commissioner Bill Braswell said if the county does proceed, he personally “would want to know who's carrying a gun to work.”
“We all work here and we want all our employees to be protected and safe on their jobs,” said Commissioner Martha Santiago. “I think we should look at this further.”
Polk County Attorney Michael Craig was asked to review Florida laws to see if allowing workers to carry weapons on the job was allowable under state law — and whether a simple change of county policy would be adequate to allow it within the parameters set by the county board.
“I just want the board to be aware that issues involving guns can get very political very quickly,” he said, adding that the board also had to consider the county's constitutional officers in the decision-making on this subject. “We share buildings with many of them and I would suggest the board consider their input on this issue.”
The constitutional officers include the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Tax Collector, the Property Appraiser, the Supervisor of Elections and the Sheriff.
Commissioners agreed to discuss the issue in-depth at an informal workshop, which has yet to be scheduled.
Meanwhile, Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said Wednesday he had discussed Hall's suggestion with the commissioner, and on a separate occasion, also with Wilson.
“I agree that we can better prepare ourselves and I would support allowing some employees to carry weapons on the job, if they were properly trained and were thoroughly vetted through background checks,” Judd said.
Judd also added that he's working on the protocols for how to accommodate a change to the county's no-guns-at-work prohibition.
“We could certainly provide the training for those employees (whom) the county manager and commissioners deemed appropriate,” Judd said.
Judd said the training provided would be similar to the education his staff provided the public school system's Guardians, who are armed civilians on school grounds.
“I applaud the board's efforts to help make sure their employees are safe, but we have to make sure anyone carrying weapons in the workplace is well-trained, well-qualified and that the system is in place to see that the right people are vetted to do that,” Judd said.
Polk Tax Collector Joe Tedder said he had also had discussions with Judd about additional security measures in his four offices, but had taken no action since his offices have a deputy sheriff assigned to each one to provide security.
“We've always had an armed police presence, because we deal with money,” Tedder said on Thursday. “But we have recently considered taking other safety measures as well. … I'll certainly be open to discussion about changing the weapons policy, as long as the employees are well-trained and vetted by the sheriff's office.”
Tedder further said he was “concerned” about the time the training would take and how it would be paid for, but would be interested in following the county's discussions.