Members of the Milwaukee Common Council are attempting to keep contractors and subcontractors working for the city from bringing guns into neighborhoods, while still staying within the boundaries of the law.
The issue arose on Monday when a photo showing three workers from city-hired subcontractor Hartford-based American Sewer Services carrying guns while on a work site near North 19th Street and West Meinecke Avenue was shared on social media. In the photo, two of the workers had their guns in holsters, while the third was holding a gun in his left hand. See more from WISN-TV Channel 12, a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee.
On Wednesday, the city’s Public Works Committee met with the city attorney’s office and Public Works Commissioner Ghassan Korban to discuss the incident.
Alderman Robert Bauman suggested introducing a resolution directing the Department of Public Works to prohibit contractors from allowing their employees to conceal weapons or openly carry guns while they are employed by the city.
“If we leave this open to further study, it could go on for two years,” Bauman said. “The city attorney can do the work and we can agree or disagree with the conclusion. Their opinion is not the law.”
Alderman Russell Stamper II, whose district the photo was taken in, agreed with the resolution; however no action was taken on Wednesday.
American Sewer Services has done work with the city for more than 30 years, Korban said. The city has had issues with the company off and on about the company’s quality of work but there is not a record of citizen complaints, Korban said.
Until this incident, American Sewer Services has allowed employees to carry guns on the job, Korban said.
Some aldermen said they were upset about the photo for several reasons. First, the perceived disrespectfulness of the man holding the gun. Second, the proximity of a school to the work site and the possibility of someone being accidentally hurt or killed.
But it is the continued perception that Milwaukee, particularly the central city, is unsafe that bothered the aldermen the most.
Alderwoman Milele Coggs said if the contractor had been hired from the community they are working in maybe they would not have been afraid to be there.
“The funny thing is 19th and Meinecke is a nice neighborhood. It has its problems, but it is a couple of blocks away from the Juice Kitchen, from the Outpost development and a whole bunch of investments.”
Alderman Bob Donovan, who said he was playing “devil’s advocate” said many city employees carry weapons on the job because they are afraid.
“19th and Meinecke lies within the Center Street corridor, which is considered very seriously-challenged crime-wise,” Donovan said, adding that there were eight homicides and 37 non-fatal shootings in the neighborhood since January. “We have to admit we have public safety challenges creating these problems we now find ourselves in. It is everyone’s first instinct to want to protect themselves when working in a neighborhood that is factually unsafe or perceived to be unsafe. What do you tell them?”
Said Bauman: “Very simple. Find another line of employment.”
Bauman said he believes if the city drafts legislation prohibiting contractors from carrying firearms the state will come in and stop it.
One solution, he said, is to end contracts and bring the work in house. Coggs agreed and recommended looking at the cost of doing so.
“I can see the (state) Legislatures drafting their press releases now, however inaccurate: ‘Clean up the city first and people won’t feel a need to carry a gun,’” Bauman said.