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City councilman asks why Gainesville marshals carry guns

POSTED: September 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

At the City Council’s work session Thursday, Gainesville City Councilman Danny Dunagan questioned why city marshals need to wear fatigues and carry firearms.

Dunagan said when the marshals visit businesses for routine checks carrying a firearm it seemed intimidating.

"I just don’t believe they need to carry firearms," Dunagan said.

The charge of the city marshal’s office is to enforce a wide array of city ordinances and codes from property maintenance to alcoholic beverage and taxicab licensing.

With their Peace Officer Standards and Training certifications, city marshals are trained to use firearms and have the power to arrest Gainesville residents, city Marshal Debbie Jones has said.

In the past year, business owners from the Norton Agency’s Frank Norton Jr. to Rick Gailey, owner of Pepper’s Market and other buildings at 624 E.E. Butler Parkway, have said that the marshals’ enforcement tactics were unfriendly and intimidating.

Other council members joined Dunagan in questioning the need for the marshals to carry firearms.

Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick said he once noticed a marshal was wearing a gun while inspecting a taxicab, and said he did not think it was necessary.

"Why do they have to take it everywhere they go?" Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner asked.

Sometimes, marshals have to go into abandoned houses, and never know what they might find in there, Councilman George Wangemann said.

"Sometimes you get into a sticky situation," Wangemann said.

Bruner noted that social workers never carry a gun, but often go into bad environments.

Dunagan suggested that marshals call for police backup when they have to enter what may be a dangerous situation.

"I know there are some bad places in our city, but not that many," he said.

Mayor Myrtle Figueras, however, asked whether Dunagan’s proposal would put too much pressure on the city’s police department, and suggested that the City Council have the marshals come tell the council why they think they need their firearms before taking any action.

Council agreed to have that discussion at its next work session on Oct. 16. Jones did not return a calls requesting comment Thursday.



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