At the start of the year, Colorado’s red flag law allowing law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others went into effect. But while the law …
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At the start of the year, Colorado’s red flag law allowing law enforcement officers to confiscate firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others went into effect.
But while the law has generated controversy around the state and even led some law enforcement officials to declare their intention not to enforce it, Golden Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Harvey said his department has come down on the side of enforcing the law by using a department policy to try and make that enforcement process safe.
“We are going to enforce the law as it was intended,” Harvey said.
The department’s policy, intended to provide guidance to both officers and the community about how the law will be enforced, complies with everything in the law the state legislature passed last year, Harvey said, but also contains some added provisions intended to increase safety.
Among the most significant of those provisions is a requirement that officers get a search warrant before responding to an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), the term for the court order to seize firearms along with concealed carry permits under the red flag law.
“We are just not going to go out to the house and knock on the door and say do you want to give us your guns because we think that puts citizens and officers at risk,” Harvey said. “With a search warrant we won’t have the situation where we have to come back and people have the opportunity to get riled up.”
In addition to requiring the warrant allowing officers to search for and take firearms regardless of whether a person named by an ERPO voluntarily agrees to provide those guns to the officers, the Golden Police Department’s policy also requires officers to conduct their own investigation of the situation and come up with a plan for how to serve the ERPO. Harvey said that plan will take into account considerations like whether investigators think the department should have a SWAT team on standby or evacuate surrounding residences when serving an ERPO.
“Because weapons will be involved we are going to ensure that we have applied every reasonable means necessary to do that in a safe fair and consistent manner,” Harvey said.
GPD also crafted its policy with the aim of providing its officers with clearer direction about when it is appropriate to serve an ERPO. Harvey said one of the biggest challenges for his department is that the state law says an ERPO can be utilized when someone is determined to present a “significant risk” but does not define that term. So the department consulted law books and other materials to ultimately create its own definition: “a risk of high probability that is likely to create an impact of some significance.”
Harvey said his department has also worked hard to make sure his officers understand the threshold for “significant risk” under that definition is less than the one for “substantial risk” the department utilizes for situations like those involving potential use of force.
That’s important, Harvey said, because his department “is not going to run away” from ERPOs and will also empower its own officers to seek them when they feel they are necessary.
“We empower our officers to enforce the law and to use their discretion appropriately,” Harvey said. “That’s why we what we want is for our officers to have a playbook they can utilize to make informed decisions.”
However, that means the department is also expecting its officers to engage in situations with an open mind when it comes to ERPOs and “use the brains we hired them for” to evaluate situations and the best response.
But while the department plans to enforce the law, Harvey said it views it as a double edged sword that will be helpful to law enforcement and increase public safety in some instances but also one that comes with the potential for abuse. Harvey said the state has already seen a case in Larimer County where a mother requested the weapons of the officer who shot her son be confiscated. The mother’s ERPO petition was denied by the presiding judge.
“I think 10 percent of cases will be very clear,” Harvey said. “I think 10 percent of these cases most likely will have some type of revenge or alternative motive and I think the 80 percent in the middle is where all of us are going to be working to find the sweet spot.”
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