Polk County to allow public employees to carry concealed weapons at county worksites

In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, Polk County commissioners approved a new law allowing certain public employees to carry concealed weapons at county worksites and to fire back in an active-shooter scenario.

Under the Polk County Workplace Marshal Plan, the sheriff's office will now begin screening and then training volunteers to respond in a workplace shooting during those critical moments once shooting starts and before deputies can arrive.

During the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, it only took three seconds before the shooter had already shot seven people. One week ago in Santa Clarita, California, the shooter had killed two students and hurt three others in 16 seconds.

"There is a new normal, and (it's) unfortunate for us because when I grew up we never closed the door," commissioner John Hall said during Tuesday's meeting. "We'd just hook the latch and the screen. And we can’t do that anymore because there is a new normal."

County officials said they want to have at least one marshal at every county worksite while keeping additional details on the program confidential, including how many marshals will be trained and where they will be deployed.

The volunteers can only act in cases of an active assailant and are banned from undertaking any other law enforcement duties.

In order to become a workplace marshal in Polk County, volunteers must meet a wide-ranging list of requirements.

Public workers must pass a criminal background check along with drug testing. They also must have a valid Florida concealed weapons permit. Additionally they must complete a 132-hour program with firearm instruction, precision pistol training and defensive tactics. What's more, volunteers must undergo a psychological evaluation by a licensed state psychologist.

“What we are checking for is, one, are they stable? But more importantly, do they have the personality to use that firearm and appropriately trained," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

"We don’t want somebody with a gun that freezes up. And (the shooter) can come take a gun away from them. So when we talk about these personality profiles we're checking the background. Past behavior is a clear indication of future conduct."

The sheriff also said his office will talk with the supervisors of interested county employees, along with their co-workers, to determine whether a volunteer is qualified to be a workplace marshal.

Commissioner Hall first brought up the Workplace Marshal Plan in a June 18 meeting after the May 31 shooting that killed a dozen people, most of them public employees, in a Virginia Beach municipal building. At the time, Hall said that he would like the board to consider removing the prohibition that employees with concealed weapon permits cannot carry a handgun inside government office buildings, adding that he felt such action would only help in the event of an active shooter.