‘The procedure is the difficult part’

Police agencies will enforce Red Flag law with nuance, caution

Scott Taylor
staylor@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/11/20

Westminster police will rely on leadership experience if they’re required to take away a resident’s firearms, convening senior staff to help navigate the new policy. “But the most difficult …

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‘The procedure is the difficult part’

Police agencies will enforce Red Flag law with nuance, caution

Posted

Westminster police will rely on leadership experience if they’re required to take away a resident’s firearms, convening senior staff to help navigate the new policy.

“But the most difficult part of all this for us is the procedure,” said Todd Reeves, Westminster’s Deputy Chief of Police. “That is, how are going to enforce this. I will tell tell you we have spent hours upon hours going through every scenario we can envision. And we’re not at a point where we feel that we have taken all circumstances under consideration.”

Reeves said the department has created a group of senior staff to review any Red Flag orders.

“The biggest, most difficult part of this is deciding what is the best way to get weapons from someone who has now been deemed unsafe or a danger to others,” Reeves said. “We have to be really good at that, because we don’t that using force or escalating tension serves any benefit.”

Northglenn Police will follow a similar process, according to Patrol Commander Mike Prange.

“Each person brought to us will be reviewed, based on the petition and our review of risk factors,” Prange said. “And then we’ll do an internal review of the resident. There will be workup, for lack of a better term, of the petition. We will adhere to the law, but we will also have a round-table discussion on each one.”

But the agencies make no qualms about enforcing Colorado’s new law regarding red flags or ERPOs — Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

They will follow the order of a court.

“I will tell you, the majority of the agencies — at least on the north end — are very consistent on our policies,” Westminster’s Reeves said. “I think we will abide by court orders and whatever is handed to us. And I can see instances where we as a law enforcement agency may seek an order to make it safer situation.”

Controversial new law

The new state law allows a judge to temporarily order the confiscation of firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. Those in favor of the measure have said it can help prevent shooting incidents, including mass shooting events as well as suicides. Opponent say it infringes on Second Amendment rights and could be abused.

Colorado is one of 17 states that have adopted some version of a Red Flag law as way to stop future mass shooting events and other gun violence. The law allows family members, members of the same household and law enforcement officers to petition the court to remove a person’s firearms, declaring them a significant risk to themselves or to others. With that declaration in hand, police can go to the person’s home and remove their firearms, have the gun owner store them at a licensed facility or have them sell the weapons.

Police and sheriff’s departments across the state have differing opinions about how they’ll handle red flag ruling. Sheriff’s in Weld and El Paso counties have said they will not enforce the new law.

The Adams County Sheriff Office has adopted a policy for enforcing the law, saying the office will seek search warrants when accompanied by an arrest warrant or a mental health hold.

People that have their guns taken away must have a hearing with the judge within 14 days to determine whether the guns should be returned and the order cancelled or if the order should extended for a year.

Those who don’t comply with an ERPO will be charged with a class 2 misdemeanor. Anyone who files a false, malicious petition for an ERPO can also be charged with a crime.

Northglenn’s Prange said the department has not received a Red Flag request and does not expect to many.

“We are hoping there will not be a large volume of the requests,” Prange said. “But we don’t really anticipate there being many.”

He said he expects the departments command level staff will review the ERPOs, if they come in. Those staff will decide, informing the chief of their decision.

“Of course, whatever course of action we take, the chief will be briefed,” Prange said. “But the round-table discussion will be among our commanders. We don’t anticipate the chief being involved at that level.”

Prange said those discussions will include whether the department will petition the courts for a Red Flag order and if they need to issue a search warrant.

“At some point, we may need to seek a search warrant, but it’s our hope that this will be a process where we just make request for the weapons and go from there.”

Thornton Police hope to make their enforcement of the new law as voluntary as possible, according to the department’s written policy. Department representatives were unable to discuss the rules, but they did send a copy of their department’s eight-page policy.

According to that, police realize that the people they serve with ERPOs will not be happy.

“The Thornton Police Department will rely heavily on the respondent’s voluntary compliance and cooperation while also striving to use the lowest level of police intervention to successfully serve the ERPO documents,” the policy reads.

Westminster’s Reeves said the department has created a decision tree that references different staff depending on the situation.

“Are we better off sitting back and waiting for someone to leave the house and maybe do a traffic stop, where it might be a little more controlled?” Reeves said. “But then you have scenarios that play off of that. We can control that person’s movement, but for how long? And remember, the order is for not for the person but for the person’s gun.”

Reeves said the department has tried to work through many scenarios to develop responses.

“To be frank, I think maybe we have overthought it,” he said. “That’s why we are relying on a team to work through it using good common and understanding the intent of the ERPO and what we can do to make it work out.”

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