Lone Tree Police Chief Kirk Wilson believes Colorado's red flag law to seize firearms from potentially dangerous individuals will need time to sort out the details. “You're going to see a very wide …
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Lone Tree Police Chief Kirk Wilson believes Colorado's red flag law to seize firearms from potentially dangerous individuals will need time to sort out the details.
“You're going to see a very wide variety of what happens across the state to how aggressive law enforcement agencies are going to be and you're going to see varying degrees of support from judges,” Wilson said. “It will be interesting to see how it slowly develops and whether they'll put (in) more specific criteria.”
Enforcement standards of Colorado's new red flag law differ by jurisdiction. The Lone Tree Police Department collaborated with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Parker Police Department and Castle Rock Police Department to determine what enforcing extreme risk protection orders will look like.
Each law enforcement agency in the state was required to draft its own policy on how to comply with the law by the end of 2019. From one Douglas County jurisdiction's policy to the next, there aren't any changes in procedure. Wilson said the difference between Lone Tree's and another agency's is in the details.
“For us, we're going to keep it at a pretty high bar right now and be diligent about gathering actual evidence, gathering actual statements and doing a thorough investigative job on this,” Wilson said. “We're not going to be seeking this out of hand because someone has a feeling. There's going to be some substantive statements and evidence, whether it's Facebook posts or text messages or things of that nature and probably a face-to-face conversation to say 'What are you thinking right now? What are your intentions?'”
Individuals who would be issued an ERPO are likely to be people officers have encountered before. The department may seize guns for a range of service calls, including mental health holds, domestic violence issues or violation of protection orders, according to Wilson.
“This is another tool we can use,” Wilson said.
The red flag law permits a law enforcement officer or a family member to petition a local court to approve an ERPO for a person considered to pose a “significant risk to self or others by having a firearm in his or her custody or control or by possessing, purchasing, or receiving a firearm,” according to the law, officially named the “Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act” (CRS 13-14.5-101). The law was named after the Douglas County deputy who was shot and killed Dec. 31, 2017, by a mentally ill individual.
Wilson declined to retroactively acknowledge any past incidents in Lone Tree where this law could've caused a different outcome.
Lone Tree's policy designates the community response team (CRT), a multijurisdictional unit run through the sheriff's office focused on responding to calls involving individuals with potential mental health issues, to consult with officers issuing the order.
Once a person's petition to the local court to issue an ERPO is approved, the order goes to the Douglas County Court civil division. An investigator or representative from the department will attend the meeting if possible. If the order is granted, the court will forward a copy of the order to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office Civil Division. The sheriff's office will review the order and notify the Lone Tree police investigations division if the order is to be served in Lone Tree's jurisdiction.
Police have five days from when the petition is filed to enforce the order. The respondent must relinquish his or her weapons immediately. If the order is issued by the Lone Tree police, the department needs to obtain a search warrant. If the order is civilian-issued, by family member or close individual, no search warrant is needed.
If the respondent refuses to relinquish his or her weapons by a civilian-initiated court order, the officers are to walk away to avoid putting anybody in danger, Wilson said.
“We're not going to do it in a rush. We're going to do it in a real safe manner. We don't want any officers hurt, we don't want any citizens hurt,” Wilson said. “For everybody's safety, our number one priority is we don't want to end up in a confrontation, if at all possible.”
If the respondent is present at the preliminary hearing — a respondent is not legally notified of this initial hearing but may still attend — then the respondent must turn over his or her weapons within 24 hours.
The officer, once having seized the weapons, would need to provide a receipt to the respondent and to the court that issued the ERPO within 72 hours.
If a firearm is considered an antique or family heirloom, the respondent may turn the guns over to a blood relative who does not live with him or her. Once the respondent turns over his or her guns, he or she must notify the court. A receipt of transfer must be submitted to the court within 72 hours of seizure.
Two weeks after the initial order, another hearing is scheduled to determine if the ERPO should be thrown out or enforced for at least one year. From there, it goes to the courts. A person may appeal the ruling to higher courts if they so choose.
“We're going to do a lot of prep work to figure out what the best way to do this,” Wilson said. “When we do one finally, hopefully there will be a lot of conversation and we'll start to learn the best methods. It's no different if you're trying to arrest someone on a warrant. You want to do it in the most safe manner as possible, and we want to make sure we have the best strategies and the least amount of confrontation as possible.”
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