City officials set a 6,000-person attendance limit at the Point Mallard Aquatic Center in response to a June 1 shooting there, but they continued to maintain Thursday that they can’t ban firearms from the attraction.
Several policy changes for the park were announced at a news conference that came after almost two weeks of security discussions stemming from the “Splash into Summer” event where police said two minors were injured by a single gunshot, and one man was arrested.
According to a police report, 18-year-old Kaleeb Jones produced a handgun during a verbal altercation and fired a round. “The round appeared to have fragmented and struck two individuals,” the report says. Jones turned himself into police June 3 and was charged with two felony counts of second-degree assault. He was released from Morgan County Jail on $60,000 bail June 4. The victims' injuries weren't considered life-threatening.
City officials have turned their attention to preventing another dangerous incident at the park, but the city Legal Department believes a state law passed in 2013 does not allow the park to keep guests from entering with a legal firearm and a proper license.
Police Chief Nate Allen said they are continuing to look for exceptions in the 2013 law, but must abide by it for now.
“We’ve asked the City Council to contact our state representatives,” Allen said.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he hasn’t had any local officials make any requests to change the 2013 law, and it’s at least nine months until the 2020 legislative session begins.
Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said there’s a special exception in the 2013 law that allows sporting events to require spectators to use clear bags for carrying items and pass through metal detectors like those used at Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare stadiums for college football games.
Alexander said Decatur's 20-acre water park “is too open” for the city to begin using turnstiles, which might allow for a weapons ban.
Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake said the city-operated park bought clear bags to sell and decided not to use them. There was debate about bag checks, “but we decided that doesn’t accomplish the goals we have here.”
Allen said Point Mallard is a family park so bag checks could be considered invasive and discourage park attendance. There’s not been a need to check for alcohol because it hasn’t been a problem, he added.
“From a global perspective, it might be discouraging and create a problem just to check a diaper bag,” Allen said.
Allen said police officers will be better staged around the park with three to seven officers patrolling near the entrances. This will not require additional officers or funding.
In another policy change, admission will be stopped an hour before closing so guests can more easily leave the park.
Lake said he chose the 6,000-guest maximum even though the number has been surpassed only once in the last decade. He is looking at ways for more accurate counting “but right now we’re going to go off headcount numbers.” Guests will have to enter and leave in single-file lines.
Lake admitted the park had an unexpectedly large turnout, 5,269, for the June 1 Splash into Summer event, and that surprised everyone, especially after the previous attempt to hold the event failed because of rain.
Allen said a big problem at the event was much of the crowd congregated on the wave pool end of the park for the fireworks even though they could be seen from most spots in the park.
Lake and Allen said their employees will be paying more attention to when an area becomes overcrowded, and then they will urge guests to go to other less-crowded areas of the park.
The police chief said there were a large number of teenagers at the park for the event and that created part of the problem. He said he is looking at rules that would not allow them to congregate or even require children and teenagers attending the park to have adult supervision.
For years, Point Mallard has had a problem with local residents dropping off their teenagers unsupervised.
“That’s dangerous too because not everyone knows how to swim,” Allen said.
The city also plans to:
• Increase firefighter presence for faster response to medical issues during large-scale events.
• Create critical incident response plans as needed.
• Hold employee awareness training on potential threats.