Lessons on red-flag laws 4 years after Parkland shooting

Southeast

Coral Springs police officer Michael Leonard points out Nikolas Cruz in court. Leonard was the officer who arrested the defendant. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz is being tried in the penalty phase of his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, July 21, 2022. Cruz previously plead guilty to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the 2018 shootings. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool)

(NewsNation) — Following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the state enacted a “red flag law.”

Under these laws, courts can issue what are called Risk Protection Orders (RPOs) that prevent people showing signs of violent intent from owning guns for a certain amount of time.

One of the Florida counties that has used this law most assertively is Broward County, where the Parkland shooting took place.

NewsNation spoke to Assistant General Counsel Ksenia Vance, the county official in charge of reviewing RPO requests from law enforcement and sending them to the courts, to discuss lessons they’ve learned.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NewsNation: Have judges generally granted (your requests for RPOs)?

Vance: Not every single risk protection order that is submitted is filed. For example, since the law was passed … from March 9, 2018, to March 31 of this year, our agency deputies have submitted 709 RPO requests. We have filed, of those 709 requests, 376, but we have declined to file 333. … So just a little less than half are declined. So not all of them are filed. It’s something that we, you know, take a lot of factors into consideration before deciding whether or not it’s legally sufficient and it’s warranted.

NewsNation: What are some of those factors that you may consider?

Vance: The court has several factors that they can consider statutorily. Some of those factors can be that the individual is suffering from mental health ailments, may be suffering from mental health ailments. A lot of times we make contact with individuals, they’re clearly having some sort of mental break. …

Whether the individual has been Baker Acted. Whether the individual is suffering from controlled substance abuse or alcohol abuse. Whether the individual has in the past or currently violated a risk protection order. Whether the individual has recklessly displayed or used a firearm. Whether the individual has made a threat to use a weapon against another individual. Whether the individual has made a threat to commit an act of violence. Whether the individual has currently been arrested for a crime of violence. Those are just some of the factors that are considered when making this decision.

NewsNation: One of the things that’s said about red flag laws is that it’s very important to have people who are actually noticing the red flags — to have good reporting about the signs that may end up leading to an RPO. What is Broward County doing to make sure that they are finding those flags compared to other places in the country that maybe have these laws but aren’t using them as much?

Vance: I think it’s just a matter of educating our law enforcement officers. I can tell you a lot of times, especially in the very beginning, when it’s a brand new law, not everyone may be very well versed in the statute. So for example, a police officer may respond to a call and they may be trying to work up a criminal investigation based on the facts, but just based on lack of experience or lack of knowledge they’re trying to investigate one way whereas an RPO can be something that can also assist.

For example, on our domestic cases….when they go through the court system, a very big percentage of them end up being dropped. … On those kinds of cases, even though there’s a pending criminal case, when I receive the case, I’m more likely to file a risk protection order on that because of my experience, and I know that there’s a good chance that the criminal case may not go through.

NewsNation: As these laws have been debated more nationwide, many people have raised civil liberties concerns about people having their rights taken away even though they haven’t been charged with anything. How is Broward County handling the civil liberties concerns in these cases?

Vance: So one of the big misconceptions with the red flag laws is that somebody’s due process rights can be violated and somebody’s civil liberties can be taken just because a scorned ex-wife can come and make a report to the police officers and then we go and we take the civil liberties. … It’s not just that easy. It goes through several steps before we even get to the point of filing a risk protection order. … And again, this isn’t permanent. … By law the longest it can be imposed for is 12 months. So even if the judge does grant the final (order), it’ll be in place for 12 months.

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