Area law enforcement prepares for red flag gun law provisions take effect
Local agencies have some concerns about the controversial gun law that took effect at the start of the new year.
Extreme risk protection orders, part of the so-called red flag gun law passed in Colorado last year, can be used to take guns away from someone that a judge deems a risk to themselves or others.
Sheriff Lou Vallario is adamantly opposed to the law, but absent any repeal or legal challenge, he and other agencies may be tasked with enforcing an extreme risk protection order if someone invokes it in Garfield County.
Law agencies, including municipal police departments and the sheriff’s office, will meet with 9th Judicial District staff in February to iron out how the process will work.
“We’re going to have some kind of discussion with the judges and the courts about what this is going to look like, but essentially the process is outlined in the statute,” Vallario said.
The judicial district is ready to process any petition now, but there are still a lot of processes that are uncertain, court executive Lynn Reed said.
The meeting “is really just making sure the communication is as consistent as it can be,” she said.
Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein hopes the meeting will clear up some questions he has about the process.
“There are a lot of unknowns. It’s brand new, and just like any system there will be kinks,” Klein said.
A petition can come from a family member, or someone in the household of a person who is suspected to be dangerous, according to the statute.
But it’s not clear how the law enforcement agency would be notified of a pending protection order proceeding, Klein said.
“It’s really a matter of procedure, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle,” Klein said.
It’s also unclear what law enforcement agency will be responsible for enforcing the order. Sheriff’s offices typically handle serving other kinds of protection orders, but the statute doesn’t specifically designate the extreme risk protection orders to the sheriff.
After filing a petition, there is a 14-day period before the hearing with a judge. At that hearing, the petitioner is supposed to submit evidence that the person with the gun poses a risk. The court will provide a lawyer for the subject of the petition.
If the judge agrees that the person “poses a significant risk of causing personal injury to self or others in the near future” by having or purchasing a firearm, the judge will grant the order, restricting the person from possessing or purchasing guns for 364 days.
That’s the part of the process that Klein and Vallario are worried about.
“If somebody doesn’t want to voluntarily hand (their guns) over, I think that heightens the level of danger for law enforcement, because they know we’re coming,” Vallario said.
That puts officers in a potentially high-risk situation.
“Being a police officer is inherently dangerous, but this type of order can put them potentially into a very dangerous position,” Klein said.
Law enforcement also can file petitions for extreme risk protection orders.
In fact, the first use of the law Jan. 2 came from Denver Police, and was filed against a man law enforcement considered as a suicide risk several days before.
Vallario said he doesn’t see it as the best tool for someone contemplating suicide, since the gun is only one way to self-harm.
“The issue there is really the mental health issue, about helping him with crisis intervention with suicidal thoughts, not taking things away from him that he might use to commit suicide,” Vallario said.
In the kind of situation where a person is threatening suicide, law enforcement can use what’s known as an M1 hold, where a person is detained for up to 72 hours for mental health screening.
The red flag law has not yet been invoked in Garfield County, and Klein believes it will rarely come up.
The incoming Glenwood Springs Police chief, Joseph Deras, has some experience with a similar red flag law in California.
Deras told the Post Independent that as captain of the Gilory Police Department, some of his officers had to secure firearms from people with sustained mental incapacitation.
“This has not occurred with much frequency. Oftentimes, we have been able to resolve this issue with the patient and/or suspect voluntarily surrendering their weapons,” Deras said.
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