Cindy Wheeler carries her gun while handing out buttons at a House Bill 60 signing event in Ellijay, Ga., on April 23, 2014. The gun bill, signed into law during the event by Governor Nathan Deal, allowed firearms to be brought inside most public buildings. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

DeKalb officials say security costs have skyrocketed after gun law

DeKalb County officials say the cost of providing security in government buildings is ballooning, mainly due to more requests for armed guards from department heads.

Some commissioners and Police Chief James Conroy blamed a 2014 state law that allows more civilian firearms in public places. Because of that, they say, agencies are requesting armed guards as a security precaution in high traffic areas.

“When the new law was enacted a couple of years ago about allowing licensed firearms (and) concealed carry permit holders to bring firearms into government buildings, we saw an increase at eight locations that requested armed guards instead of unarmed,” said Conroy, whose department oversees the security contract.

The county wouldn’t say where these facilities are.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to add $1.4 million to its contract with All N One Security Services, bringing the total to $5.3 million allocated over five years.

DeKalb spent $735,000 in 2014 on the contract, which covered armed and unarmed security guards. Last year, the amount rose to roughly $1.3 million, a 73 percent increase caused mainly by the rising demand for armed guards, county officials said.

Armed security is paid $17.43 an hour, compared to $14.75 an hour for unarmed.

In addition to the All N One guards, security at government offices is provided by DeKalb Police and an auxiliary force of nearly 30 retired or former officers who volunteer their time. The county says it keeps costs down by hiring All N One guards when possible, since they are paid less per hour than police.

The number of Georgians with concealed weapons permits has increased since the gun law was expanded in 2014 to allow people to bring their firearms in government buildings.

There were 750,000 active permits in the state at the end of 2014 compared to 979,006 in May 2017, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center.

Still, DeKalb officials say they have no way to know if the number of armed civilians in government buildings has increased. The only example of a security issue near a public building they cited was a 2016 shooting outside a library and senior center in South DeKalb, where the armed guard was credited for responding quickly to avoid further injuries.

There is one caveat in the 2014 law: Guns can be prohibited from public buildings if there are security officers and screening equipment stationed at the door.

DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader.

Commissioner Jeff Rader said he was told that the law also requires that those security officers have weapons, another reason why the county requested more armed officers.

“We want to ban guns from public buildings, and this is the only means that is available for us to do so,” Rader said. “So, unfortunately, now the citizens of DeKalb County have to pay these extraordinary costs in order to achieve that goal.

Other metro Atlanta counties have not reported the same increase in security costs. Fulton County, for example, hires unarmed, private security guards. If there is a need for armed security, it is handled by the sworn officers. A Gwinnett County spokesman said the county uses sheriff’s deputies and police officers to provide armed security at public buildings.

Neither reported an increase in problems since the state law went into effect.

DeKalb commissioners have asked Conroy and CEO Mike Thurmond’s office to review whether armed guards are needed at parks and recreation facilities.

“We are in the process of evaluating security at all the facilities,” county chief operating officer Zach Williams said during a committee meeting to discuss the security costs.

Rader says it’s just common sense that, if more county residents might be coming to county buildings armed, the county would want armed security in those buildings as well. “But it’s going to be very expensive, thanks to your General Assembly.”

-- Staff writers Arielle Kass, Meris Lutz and Tyler Estep contributed to this report.

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