Berkeley County Water and Sanitation’s code enforcement officers on Wednesday were given back their .40-caliber Glock handguns.
County spokesman Michael Mule said via email, “Based on council’s position Monday night, Berkeley County has decided to allow qualified code enforcement officers to choose whether or not to carry a handgun in the performance of their duties, while we work together on a more clear resolution. This morning, three of the four qualified code enforcement officers chose to carry a handgun.”
The officers, who monitor littering and illegal dumping throughout the county, were stripped of their guns shortly after Supervisor Bill Peagler took office in January. Peagler, a lawyer, believed the guns could be a liability to the county and said cameras were a better weapon.
He interpreted the current ordinance allowing firearms, passed in January 2009, to say that the decision was up to him, but some council members disagreed. Some also believe disarming the officers puts them at risk. Water and Sanitation Executive Director Doug Smits said at the time that none of the officers have drawn their guns during the time they’ve carried them.
Smits was out of the office Wednesday and has not returned a call for comment.
On Monday, Council’s Water and Sanitation Committee unanimously agreed that the current ordinance should be enforced until it can be amended.
On Tuesday, county officials said the guns would not be returned until the motion was read out of committee at the next Council meeting, on April 27. That prompted several councilmen to call for a special meeting Thursday, but because the issue has been resolved, the special meeting will not be held.
“I’m glad to see that the resolution passed by council in 2009 is being honored,” Councilman Ken Gunn said Wednesday. “If the supervisor feels that changes need to be made, he should bring it before council. It is not up to one individual to decide when it was council’s decision to begin with.”
The officers are considered regular, salaried law enforcement officers of Berkeley County, and state law allows them to carry a pistol when acting in the scope of their duties, according to the 2009 resolution. They are required to be trained through the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy and are required to recertify their weapons training every year. They do not have the power to arrest, Smits said.
The officers can issue warnings or write tickets to appear in magistrate’s court. The offense carries a fine of up to $500 and/or 30 days in jail.
Charleston County code enforcement officers do not carry guns, but Dorchester County officers do. Dorchester recently installed dash cameras to code officers’ vehicles, a move Berkeley County is also looking at.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.