Meridian Star

October 6, 2013

Supervisor questions LEMA director on guns purchase

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     The question of county employees who are not law officers carrying guns in county vehicles has arisen again.

    David Sharp, director of Lauderdale Emergency Management Agency, asked the Board of Supervisors in August if he and two other LEMA employees could carry weapons in their trucks so if there was a search and rescue operation in the woods, they could protect themselves from snakes.

    At the time, most of the board agreed with Sharp and they voted to give him and the others permission to carry a gun in their trucks but the guns were only to be brought out during a search. District Two Supervisor Wayman Newell voted against it, saying he was concerned about the liability to the county.

    During a work session of the board on Thursday, Newell asked Sharp about some items he saw on the monthly claims docket, which is a list of items the county is due to pay. The docket included 10, 9mm paint pellet guns for training purposes; and four .45 caliber Glock pistols.

    "I see where the county has bought some pistols," Newell said. "Who authorized that?"

Sharp said the county authorized LEMA to carry the guns. He explained that the guns that use paint pellets are for training; the other weapons will be carried in the LEMA vehicles.

    "If you want to carry one in your vehicle to kill a snake, I think you need to furnish your own gun," Newell said.

    Joe McCraney, county administrator, said he knew Sharp was going to buy the weapons, but he wasn't clear from the board's previous order whether that meant they could carry county-owned or personal weapons.

    Josh Todd, District Three supervisor, said in the future, he would like to know about this type of purchase before it is made; not after the fact.    

    Rick Barry, board attorney, said from a liability standpoint, it would be better if the gun in the vehicle was a county-owned weapon.

    Newell also questioned the purchase by LEMA of a 24 x 16 self-inflatable tent for $5,000.

    "It is to be used for temporary shelter during disasters, it would be used for a de-com tent at a hazmat incident. It could be used by the Sheriff's Department at a crime scene," Sharp said.

    Todd did not question the purchase of the tent.

    "The tent, I can see. I've been out there with you. If it's 98 degrees and you've got family sitting around waiting on you to find somebody, I can see that part," Todd said.

    Sharp said the money for the purchases came from a grant his office applied for and won; the other portion of the money came from oil spill cleanup jobs the county has done and been reimbursed for.

    "We didn't buy those training guns for LEMA," Sharp said. "Those are for the sheriff's department to train."

    Sharp said officers using this type of weapon for training get a better training experience because they are firing weapons and being fired upon. Also, the paint pellets are easy to wipe clean, he said.     Training exercises are often done in schools or other buildings with paint pellet guns so officers can drill in a more realistic setting.

    As to whether he should have made these purchases before consulting the board, Sharp said he followed the state's purchasing laws.

    "We went through all the guidelines," Sharp said.