Lake Wales Commission

Lake Wales Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson, far left, said the public should know as much as elected officials in reference to local law enforcement’s options to address violent threats involving weapons.

LAKE WALES – At the end of a Lake Wales City Commission meeting Aug. 6, Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson started a discussion about the recent gun violence tragedies in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“The reality is that can happen anywhere,” Gibson said.

Gibson said that, as an elected official, he had been made aware of local steps that have been set in motion to try and prevent a mass killing, but added that it may be time to make more of that information publicly known.

“I kind of have been assured that there is a mechanism under way to identify folks like that, but it's not wise to talk about it in public,” Gibson said.

Gibson asked Lake Wales Police Chief Chris Velasquez to discuss available options to address those who make violent threats. Velasquez said the department is ready for the start of the new school year, that there are lots of general threats of violence made on social media and that his officers are doing everything they can to investigate known threats.

“People just say the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen,” Velasquez said. “They don’t really care, they just put it out there and say it and they can really cause some major panic. There are things we don’t really want to go into in public, but we work 24/7. We don’t sleep — we are always ready to react.”

Florida is one of the states that has passed a law commonly referred to as the “red flag” law. Passed last year, Floridians can now petition the court when people making credible threats of self-harm or specific violent threats against others. In some instances, a judge can now temporarily take a legally-owned gun away from such a person.

Lake Wales City Manager Ken Fields said the city already has an attorney to review red flag cases and to petition the court for something called a risk protection order (or RPO).

“The (Polk County Sheriff’s Office) has had a large number of (RPO) cases this year,” Fields said.

The Sun reached out to LWPD and PCSO staff to learn more specifics about how often this new law, which was championed by Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, who lobbied on its behalf as a member of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Commission last year.

LWPD staff successfully petitioned to have taken four weapons away from Lake Wales residents who recently posed a threat. 

PCSO spokesperson Scott Wilder described the new law in more detail.

“We don’t track the number of weapons, and we do not always take possession of weapons – relatives, friends (and) neighbors can also hold a weapon for safe keeping,” Wilder said. “RPOs are designed to be temporary – orders must be reviewed and approved by a judge. Weapons, may be held for safekeeping up to 14 days. After a hearing and due process, they may be temporarily removed for a period of up to 12 months.”

Wilder said the court considers evidence such as recent acts or threats of violence within the past 12 months, evidence of mental health issues, violation of injunctions, history of domestic violence, reckless display of a weapon and corroborated evidence of drug or alcohol abuse.

Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.

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